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(Reuters) — French automaker Renault, its Japanese partner Nissan and tech giant Alphabet’s Waymo are exploring a partnership to develop and use self-driving vehicles to transport people and goods in France and Japan, the companies said on Thursday.
The proposed venture could also be expanded to other markets, the companies said.
If the partnership is realized, it will have ramifications for other alliances and other self-driving projects, most of which have yet to hit the road. Automakers across the world are re-thinking independent autonomous vehicle efforts, and instead looking for partners to share rising investment costs and regulatory risks.
In Japan, a potential competitor to a Renault-Nissan-Waymo venture would be Monet Technologies, a self-driving project involving Toyota Motor and Honda Motor and backed by SoftBank Group. SoftBank and Honda also have invested in General Motors Co’s Cruise self-driving car unit.
The initial agreement among Waymo, Renault and Nissan aims to “develop a framework for deployment of mobility services at scale,” according to Hadi Zablit, Renault-Nissan Alliance business development chief. Physical testing of vehicles and deployment of services would come in later phases.
The two automakers will set up 50-50 joint ventures in France and Japan to develop the driverless transportation services. Zablit said a later Waymo investment is “one of the options” under consideration.
With Waymo, they will also research commercial, legal and regulatory issues related to building automated transportation-as-a-service businesses in the two countries.
The agreement is time-limited and exclusive in both countries, barring either side from working with competitors. Its duration was not disclosed.
It is not clear how involving Waymo might affect the existing alliance between Renault and Nissan, which has been strained since the departure earlier this year of longtime chief executive Carlos Ghosn, or a proposed merger between Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
FCA and Renault reached a preliminary agreement in late May to pursue a $35 billion merger. But FCA Chairman John Elkann abruptly withdrew the offer on June 6 after the French government, Renault’s biggest shareholder, blocked a board vote and demanded more time to win backing from Nissan.
Waymo late last year began offering a self-driving service in Arizona called Waymo One, but with a human monitor on board.
Waymo also has an existing partnership with FCA under which the automaker is supplying Chrysler Pacifica minivans for Waymo’s fledgling self-driving fleet in the United States and eventually may buy self-driving systems from Waymo for its own vehicles.
FCA also agreed in early June to partner with Aurora, the Silicon Valley startup co-founded by former Waymo chief Chris Urmson and funded in part by South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co.
The alliance took an earlier step towards working with Alphabet last year, when it agreed to adopt the Google Android operating system in its future vehicles.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Laurence Frost in Paris; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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