It’s more than six months since we last spotted a prototype of Zeekr’s robotaxi, but it doesn’t show any sign of ditching its steering wheel just yet.
Judging by the crudely-painted “009” identifiers on the front and sides of this prototype it’s the same vehicles our spy photographers snapped testing in Sweden last March, the main difference being that the newer images show it with some equipment strapped to the roof.
Waymo already operates driverless taxis in the U.S. and the company plans to deploy these new Geely-built Zeekr minivans in North America on its Waymo One fleet. When that collaboration was announced last December Waymo revealed a handful of interior and exterior renderings that showed a robotaxi with a centrally mounted front touchscreen, but without a steering wheel.
Related: Waymo Bringing Its Autonomous Ride-Hailing Service To Los Angeles
However, the spy shots clearly show that the prototype has a centrally-mounted steering wheel, and the driver definitely has his hands own the rim. There’s also no sign of the front, side and roof-mounted ADAS sensors visible in the rendered images of the autonomous taxi.
The steering wheel could just be a safety backup while the autonomous capabilities are fine-tuned, or perhaps it gives the test drivers more freedom to evaluate the powertrain and chassis setup.
In our latest OEM collaboration, we’re pleased to work with @GeelyGroup as we integrate our Waymo Driver into a version of their new mobility-focused, all-electric Zeekr vehicle, designed for riders first. More: https://t.co/Qdf23Ln8Uw pic.twitter.com/5opt0Z1hxd
— Waymo (@Waymo) December 28, 2021
One other possibility is that Zeekr might offer the vehicle as a regular passenger car with conventional controls alongside the ride-hailing autonomous version. That could give Geely and Zeekr a credible rival to Volkswagen’s ID. Buzz electric minivan, though the Zeekr looks to have only two rows of seats, whereas the North American Buzz, which will have a longer wheelbase than the standard five-seat European model, will offer three rows.
We already know from the official renderings that the Chinese-built Zeekr minivan will be a handsome thing, at least judged by minivan standards, and its unusual front and rear sliding doors and lack of b-pillars could make it a really useful family van.
Image Credits: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien for CarScoops