Waymo, the recently renamed Google self-driving car project, is in talks to collaborate with its second big auto partner.
Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday it is discussing testing Waymo’s self-driving technology in some of its vehicles, in what would be a major partnership between a traditional auto maker and Silicon Valley.
Under the proposed partnership, the companies would test Waymo’s sensors, computers and software in Honda’s vehicles. Initially, the Japanese auto maker’s vehicles likely would join Waymo’s fleet of test cars rather than be offered for sale.
Negotiations are in “mid-stage,” according to a person familiar with the talks.
Waymo, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., has 58 self-driving cars on U.S. roads and is set to add another 100 vans made by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV early next year.
A successful partnership between the two companies would fit with Waymo’s apparent strategy of joining with smaller auto makers that have limited research budgets. Executives at Honda and Fiat Chrysler have said their companies can’t afford to invest as much in self-driving technology as heavyweight competitors such as General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.
“Waymo should be a one-stop shop for Honda” in self-driving technology, Dave Sullivan, an analyst for AutoPacific, said in an email. “This could free up resources at Honda.”
Honda has said it plans to sell cars that have limited self-driving capabilities around 2020. Honda signaled on Wednesday that a partnership with Waymo could give its vehicles fully self-driving capability.
The talks come amid a clash between Silicon Valley and traditional auto makers over who will dominate self-driving technology. Tech companies like Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc. have moved forward aggressively. Some car companies have responded by developing their own systems, while others are joining with tech firms. Volvo Cars Corp., for instance, is partnering with Uber.
For Waymo, the collaboration could help it gain momentum as a supplier of self-driving technology. The Alphabet unit is competing with companies including longtime auto supplier Delphi Automotive PLC, which also wants to provide the brains for autonomous vehicles.
Waymo was spun out as a stand-alone business unit earlier this month, signaling the company’s effort to commercialize the technology it has been developing since 2009.
Tech companies and auto makers are racing to roll out self-driving vehicles as advances in artificial intelligence and vehicle electrification are bringing to life the long-held dream of cars that can drive themselves. Hurdles still remain, however, including making sure the technology can handle all the complexities of real-world driving.
General Motors acquired San Francisco startup Cruise Automation earlier this year in a $1 billion deal to jump start its own effort, while Uber is testing self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Tesla Motors Inc. is shipping vehicles with the hardware needed for fully autonomous driving, saying it can enable the cars and SUVs later with software when it is ready.
In May, Waymo marked its first partnership with a major auto maker in a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to put its self-driving technology in 100 Chrysler minivans. Those vehicles will expand the tech company’s test fleet.
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