Love Affair Between Waymo and the Renault-Nissan Alliance Turns Hot

Originally kicked out of the Chairman's office, Google is now in the self-driving seat.

Many, many years ago, a delegation of (then) Google showed up in the office of (then) Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, and presented their (then) quite nascent plans for self-driving cars. Ghosn pierced the Google-guys with his laser eyes, and asked what they wanted. “Do you want to build your own cars? Do you want to sell the technology to us? Or what?” The Google detachment had no answer, and Ghosn kicked them out of his office.

Now, everything has changed. Ghosn has become victim of a (as far as boardroom brawls go) violent coup, and he’s preparing in Tokyo for a trial that could get him (back) into jail for many years. Renault-Nissan is working on driverless cars with Google’s Waymo.

Today, it was announced that “Groupe Renault, Nissan Motor Co., and Waymo, leaders in their respective fields, have entered into an exclusive agreement for an initial period to explore all aspects of driverless mobility services for passengers and deliveries in France and Japan.” The agreement is billed as “a first step to developing long-term, profitable driverless mobility services operations.”

As far as autonomous cars go, the Alliance has a lot of knowledge, for which is doesn’t get the respect and the headlines it deserves. As an industry-first, it’s ProPilot 2.0 ADAS system received government approval in Japan for hands-free driving from toll-gate to toll-gate.  The deal also is a big breakthrough for Waymo, which so far had a hard time finding potent industry partners. Instead, it ran into a massive firewall erected by leading OEMs to keep data-gobbling Google out of its cars. That wall has broken down, at least at the corner of Nissan-Renault.

First rumors of a hot affair between Waymo and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance surfaced in February. At around the same time, the Alliance stopped its activities in the Automotive Grade Linux open source project, which should serve as an indicator that the cooperation with Waymo could go far beyond “driverless mobility services.”