A day after Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona, suspended Uber from testing in the state following the first pedestrian death involving a self-driving vehicle, the autonomous car industry needed a vote of confidence.
Google’s self-driving spinoff Waymo provided that booster shot: At the New York Auto Show, the company announced it will purchase up to 20,000 of the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace crossovers to test, and then deploy in its commercial autonomous vehicle fleets. The deal with Tata Motors' Jaguar Land Rover is potentially worth more than $1 billion, and accelerates Waymo’s effort to put vehicles on public roads without human drivers behind the wheel.
Jaguar said it expected to begin production on the cars equipped with Waymo technology in 2020. The vehicles will first be available in a ride-hail service in Phoenix, Ariz., where the company will begin testing prototypes this year (the Arizona ban affects only Uber).
For now, Waymo will own and operate the vehicles that incorporate the company’s technology. Eventually, according to Waymo, it could license the self-driving technology to Jaguar Land Rover as well.
The first prototype I-Pace with Waymo’s self-driving technology will hit the road for public testing at the end of 2018, and officially become part of Waymo’s commercial ride-hailing service starting in 2020. Waymo and Jaguar Land Rover’s engineers will work together to build these cars as self-driving vehicles from the start, rather than retrofit them once they come off the assembly line.
This is the first element of what Waymo CEO John Krafcik called a “long-term partnership” with Jaguar. The companies plan to build up to 20,000 vehicles in the first two years of production, with the goal of serving potentially 1 million ride-sharing trips a day.
By targeting the ride-hailing business Waymo is competing with companies such as GM’s Cruise, currently testing hundreds of self-driving electric Chevrolet Bolts in San Francisco and Arizona. GM’s aim is to launch a commercial taxi service in 2019. And Uber has been working to get its ride-sharing fleet ready by mid-2019. For its part, Waymo has previously stated that it would bring self-driving service to the public in 2018.
Jaguar I-Pace will be the second official vehicle in Waymo’s autonomous taxi fleet. Waymo currently has a fleet of Pacifica minivans as part of its ongoing agreement with Fiat Chrysler. The minivans are of the plug-in hybrid variety, with Waymo’s self-driving hardware and software built in. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Waymo have a facility in Michigan, near FCA’s U.S. headquarters, to engineer the vehicles.
Waymo’s fleet that’s being tested in Arizona and California will be maintained and serviced by the Avis Budget Group and AutoNation.
Jaguar, which sold 178,601 vehicles globally last year, is positioning its I-Pace all-electric vehicle against Tesla products. The I-Pace in standard form will reach U.S. showrooms in the second half of the year with 394 hp, a top speed of 124 MPH, 0 to 60 acceleration in 4.5 seconds, and a range of 240 miles. Prices begin at $69,500, excluding fees.