Waymo and Zeekr to develop electric, autonomous, ride-hailing vehicle

04 January 2022

Waymo and Zeekr, Geely’s new premium electric brand, will jointly develop a new battery-electric vehicle (BEV) in Europe. Optimised for transportation-as-a-service (TaaS), the all-electric autonomous minivan will join the Waymo One ride-hailing fleet in the US.

‘By becoming a strategic partner and vehicle supplier to the Waymo One fleet, we will be able to share our experience, ideals and provide our expertise in collaborating on a fully-electric vehicle that fits Waymo’s requirements for this rapidly-expanding segment in the global market for sustainable travel,’ said Andy An, Zeekr’s CEO.

Europe to the US

The new vehicle will be designed and developed at Zeekr’s China Europe Vehicle Technology Centre (CEVT) in Gothenburg, Sweden. As part of the wider Geely Group site, CEVT works behind the scenes, driving innovation for Zeekr as well as Volvo, Geely Auto and Lynk and Co.

Zeekr will use the facilities to develop the new BEV from open-source mobility architecture. This could be Geely’s sustainable-experience architecture (SEA), which was unveiled back in 2020. The manufacturing location has yet to be confirmed, but Waymo will receive the new vehicle in the US, where it will integrate its autonomous ‘Driver’ technology into the platform.

The new minivan will be designed around its users, with the companies committing to a ‘rider-centric’ approach. Designed with autonomous applications in mind, it will come equipped with a fully-configurable cabin. This means it can come with and without direct driver controls. This specification will be tailored towards Waymo One fleet requirements.

Reviewing renderings

Source: Geely

Early renderings hint at potential key design elements of Zeekr’s all-electric minivan. Sliding doors open to a spacious cabin with a low and flat floor. The lack of a central column also makes access easier for passengers. Those seated in the front will be greeted only by a central touchscreen and no steering wheel or pedals. Sitting atop the BEV, a large lidar will provide the Waymo Driver system with a wealth of information.

No deployment schedule has been confirmed, but the new vehicle is expected to hit Waymo’s One fleet ‘in the years to come.’ In Arizona, the TaaS has been running for over a year with no drivers behind the wheel. In 2021, the company claims it saw tens of thousands of rider-only trips. Waymo One is being rolled out further as part of its Trusted Tester Programme in San Francisco.

‘Being the world’s first fully-autonomous ride-hailing service and tapping into our innovator DNA, our UX team has completely reimagined the riding experience with autonomous driving in mind, enabling riders to stream their own music and podcasts in the car, make multiple stops in one trip, and in Phoenix hail a ride with just a tap through Google Maps, to help make Waymo One an even more delightful product,’ Waymo said.

Zeekr is the latest OEM to benefit from this specialised approach to automotive technology. In 2020, Waymo entered a similar agreement with Volvo, looking to integrate its Driver system into an electric platform for ride-hailing services. The autonomous technology company also works with Stellantis on an SAE Level 4-ready Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan for autonomous ride-hailing applications.