NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - Waymo will incorporate up to 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE electric vehicles into its upcoming autonomous fleet as part of a long-term partnership between Alphabet's self-driving unit and Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC, the two companies said on Tuesday.
The partnership, announced ahead of the New York International Auto Show, is a further step in Waymo's plan to roll out a robotaxi service in the United States. A pioneer in autonomous vehicles, the company is considered by most self-driving experts to be ahead in the highly competitive race to deploy such vehicles for the masses, where rivals include General Motors and Uber Technologies.
Testing of the vehicles will begin this year, said Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik, with incorporation into the fleet from 2020.
Jaguar's I-PACE launched earlier this month. The SUV is the first battery-powered vehicle for the brand, which is owned by India's Tata Motors, underscoring the convergence of electrification and automation.
Waymo currently tests its self-driving system on Chrysler Pacifica minivans built by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The company has plans to roll out a ride service to the public in the Phoenix, Arizona area in coming months, with plans to later launch it more widely.
Waymo has been working on self-driving cars since 2009 and has driven over 5 million miles on public roads. Last month, it released a video designed to help potential passengers envision what it is like to ride inside an autonomous vehicle.
Questions over the safety of self-driving vehicles are swirling following the March 18 death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving Uber test vehicle in Arizona. On Saturday, Krafcik said Waymo's system would have seen and avoided the pedestrian.
Uber announced last year that it planned to buy up to 24,000 vehicles from Volvo, owned by China's Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd, in a nonexclusive deal from 2019 to 2021. Companies planning to launch driverless car services generally supplement existing hardware on vehicles supplied by automakers with their own self-driving technology. (Writing by Alexandria Sage Editing by Chris Reese)