Waymo's New Robotaxis Will Be Built By Chinese Automaker Geely's New Premium Electric Brand Zeekr
【Summary】Autonomous driving developer Waymo, which spun out of Google’s self-driving car project, unveiled its new electric robotaxi vehicle that will be built by Zeekr, the new premium electric brand from Chinese automaker Geely. Zeekr was established in March as a standalone brand to compete with Tesla, XPeng, NIO Inc. and others in the premium EV category in China.
Autonomous driving developer Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, unveiled its new electric robotaxi vehicle that will be built by Zeekr, the new premium electric brand from Chinese automaker Geely.
Geely, which is the parent company of Volvo Cars, announced it was establishing Zeekr in March as a standalone brand to compete with Tesla, XPeng, NIO Inc. and others in the premium EV category in China.
Geely and Volvo Cars also jointly operate the electric performance brand Polestar.
The futuristic EV supplied by Zeekr is specifically designed for Waymo's autonomous ride hailing service called Waymo One, which the company aims to launch soon in major cities in the U.S. Waymo's autonomous ride hailing service will compete with Uber and Lyft.
Waymo said it will integrate its full stack autonomous driving platform it calls the "Waymo Driver" into a commercial version of the all-electric Zeekr vehicle in its latest OEM collaboration with Geely. The Zeekr robotaxi was designed in Sweden specifically for autonomous ride-hailing. The all-electric vehicles will eventually replace the gas-powered models in the Waymo One fleet.
Waymo said the the multi-passenger Zeekr commercial robotaxi was designed to prioritize the comfort, convenience, and preferences of Waymo One customers.
The EV features a flat floor which makes its easier for riders to enter and exit the vehicle. It also has a low step in height for more accessible entry. Since the Zeekr EV is fully autonomous, it will be built without a steering wheel and pedals, which further opens up the interior space for passengers.
The interior of the Zeekr robotaxi offers generous head and legroom, along with fully adjustable and reclining seats, according to Waymo. Other features will include infotainment screens and chargers for cell phones and other personal electronics.
Waymo is considered the industry leader in autonomous driving technology. The company has been working on the technology for over a decade as part of Google's early self-driving car project. Waymo's fleet of self-driving vehicles has already traveled over 25 million miles on public roads.
Waymo's decision to use a vehicle platfrom from Zeekr will introduce the brand to customers in the U.S. Zeekr is also building passenger EVs for the China market. The company aims to sell 650,000 electric vehicles a year by 2025.
The Zeekr brand will have its own battery technologies, battery management systems, electric motor technologies and electric vehicle supply chain to build vehicles at scale.
In August, Geely announced its raised $500 million in the first-ever external funding round for Zeekr. The funding round was led by Intel Capital, the venture capital arm of Intel Corp. Other investors include battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL).
The first consumer model from Zeekr is the "Zeekr 001", a compact, battery powered wagon, also referred to as a "shooting brake" in the industry. Zeekr says the 001 will offer an "unrivaled luxury vehicle experience in terms of comfort and performance."
Zeekr is targeting younger and more tech savvy buyers in China that are more likely to buy an electric vehicle. This group of buyers are technologically advanced vehicles that can serve as an extension of their digital lives, with connectivity features and smart technologies such as automated driving.
Waymo's rival Cruise, which is owned by General Motors, also built its own robotaxi together with Japan's Honda called the Cruise Origin. The autonomous Origin shuttle was unveiled in Jan 2020.
The Origin has a similar passenger-focused design without a steering wheel and brake pedal and also will be used for a commercial ride-hailing service that Cruise hopes to launch soon in San Francisco.
Waymo plans to launch its Waymo One autonomous ride-hailing service soon in San Francisco and people are lining up to try it out. The interest in the service was so strong that Waymo created a waitlist for people wanting to hail a ride in one of its fully-driverless vehicles.
Earlier this month, Waymo co-CEO, Tekedra Mawakana, said that "tens of thousands" of San Francisco residents are on Waymo's waitlist.
Waymo plans to introduce the passenger-focused, fully autonomous Zeekr robotaxi on U.S. roads over the next several years as part of the Waymo One fleet.
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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