Waymo is the “exclusive global L4 partner” for Volvo Car Group, the two companies announced Thursday.
That means that Volvo will integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology, widely considered to be among the best in the world, into a fleet of electric robotaxis that it will deploy at some point in the future. The deal also applies to Volvo’s two subrands, its electric performance company Polestar and its Chinese brand Lynk & Co.
“Fully autonomous vehicles have the potential to improve road safety to previously unseen levels and to revolutionize the way people live, work and travel,” Volvo CTO Henrik Green said in a statement. “Our global partnership with Waymo opens up new and exciting business opportunities for Volvo Cars, Polestar, and Lynk & Co.”
Electric robotaxis by Waymo and Volvo
“L4” is a reference to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) taxonomy for autonomous vehicles, commonly referred to as the SAE levels, which have become the global standard for defining self-driving. Level 4, or L4, vehicles can operate without a human driver behind the wheel, but only within a specific geographic location and under certain conditions, like good weather. Waymo has some Level 4 vehicles in operation outside of Phoenix, Arizona.
Volvo is the fourth automaker to commit to integrating Waymo’s AV technology in its vehicles. The Alphabet subsidiary also has preexisting agreements with Nissan-Renault, Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover. Volvo is planning to release a handful of EVs in the next few years, including the XC40 Recharge and the Polestar 2.
Previously, Volvo had an agreement with Uber to deploy a fleet of self-driving taxis by 2019, but that plan was scrapped after an Uber test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in 2017. The Swedish automaker still has a partnership with Uber’s autonomous division, and last year, the two companies unveiled a jointly developed self-driving version of the Volvo XC90 SUV.
Waymo famously sued Uber in 2017 for allegedly stealing some of its self-driving technology. The two companies settled the following year. And now Uber is weighing whether it may have to come to a licensing agreement with Waymo or make design changes to its autonomous vehicle technology, following an independent investigation that found some of Waymo’s designs still in use by Uber.
“This agreement does not affect Volvo Cars’ vehicle supply deal with Uber,” a Volvo spokesperson said. “We will continue to deliver autonomous drive ready vehicles to Uber.”
Volvo also has plans to sell customers partially automated vehicles equipped with LIDAR sensors made by US startup Luminar. The automaker said its vehicles will be able to drive themselves on highways hands-free, with no human intervention, and will start rolling off the production line in 2022.