“When it comes to driverless cars, there’s Waymo, then there’s everybody else” claimed Ars Technica recently. And at a time when the automated vehicle industry has hit some speedbumps – following reports of lagging consumer interest and low returns – the Alphabet owned self-driving start-up has bullishly accelerated into pole position.
Founded as a special project in 2009, Waymo broke free from its parent company, tech behemoth Google in 2016, with their own independent branding, name, and mission to forge “a new way forward in mobility.” Though it has never sold a car on a commercial basis, and has less direct consumer experience than competitors like Tesla and Uber, the self-driving disruptor has excelled in building the best technology, and hardware that can be installed in other manufacturers’ vehicles. Earlier this year, they announced a joint journey with Fiat Chrysler to roll out 62,000 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans, and a deal that may include licensing Waymo’s technology and services to be incorporated into FCA vehicles.
This eye for a good partnership, and their drive to succeed has pushed them into the lead: not only when it comes to distance (it outdrives its competitors at 7 million autonomous miles as of June) but also in valuation. A UBS analyst recently calculated Waymo’s worth at up to $135 billion, “thanks to…possible revenue from robo taxis, autonomous-vehicle technology… in-car monetization time, and maps”. Particularly impressive when you look at a 2017 Navigant ‘Autonomous Drivers Leadership Board’, and see Waymo hovering coyly in the ‘contenders’ section, behind auto industry giants like GM and Ford. Just one year later, and their push towards full level 5 automation has these more traditional auto companies, biting Waymo’s dust.
The road to success hasn’t always been smooth. Pitfalls have included a legal battle with Uber over intellectual property theft accusations. But skilful collaborations, exploiting their natural advantages (the terrain of their suburban Palo Alto headquarters is ideal for safe test-driving) and forcible ambition (they were one of the few major self-driving players not to pause testing after the Uber autonomous crash) has meant they have overtaken Goliaths of the auto-industry. Apple recently poached a Senior Self-Driving Engineer from the Waymo team. They say those in the lead should watch their backs…