China’s Geely Holding said its premium electric mobility brand, Zeekr, will make electric vehicles for Waymo, Alphabet Inc’s self-driving unit, to be deployed as fully autonomous ride-hailing vehicles across the US.
The vehicles will be designed and developed at Zeekr’s facility in Sweden, and later integrated with Waymo’s self-driving technology, Geely said on Tuesday.
Waymo said it would introduce the vehicles to US roads “in the years to come.”
Concept images Waymo published on Tuesday show a roomy, low-to-the-ground minivan with seating for about five riders and sliding doors on each side serving as the lone entryways.
Waymo is the only fully driverless taxi service in the US. It has driven thousands of people since launching the service a year ago in Phoenix.
Tie-up to Help Geely Make Inroads
The partnership with Zeekr will help Waymo expand its driverless ride-hailing service in the face of increased competition and also create inroads for Chinese brand Geely into the US market.
Waymo risks losing its lead in the US race to prove robotaxis are a viable business as it sticks to a limited service and rivals backed by automakers near their own launches.
Companies including Ford’s Argo AI and General Motors’ Cruise are competing for the billions of dollars in financing needed to automate driving through artificial intelligence software and expensive sensors.
As well as the Phoenix service, hundreds of passengers in San Francisco have trialled Waymo cabs with safety drivers aboard.
But Waymo lacks investment from a major automaker, which analysts say could hamper efforts to grow its fleet.
- Reuters with additional editing by George Russell