Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, has reached a deal with one of Detroit’s Big Three automakers to dramatically expand its fleet of autonomous vehicles. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced today that it would supply “thousands” of additional Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Waymo, with the first deliveries starting at the end of 2018.
Neither Waymo nor FCA would disclose the specific number of vehicles that were bought, nor the amount of money that was trading hands. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan starts at $39,995. A thousand minivans would cost $40 million, so this was at the very least an eight-figure deal.
Waymo currently has 600 of FCA’s minivans in its fleet, some of which are used to shuttle real people around for its Early Rider program in Arizona. The first 100 were delivered when the partnership was announced in May 2016, and an additional 500 were delivered in 2017. The minivans are plug-in hybrid variants with Waymo’s self-driving hardware and software built in. The companies co-staff a facility in Michigan, near FCA’s US headquarters, to engineer the vehicles. The company also owns a fleet of self-driving Lexus RX SUVs that is has been phasing out in favor of the new minivans. (The cute “Firefly” prototypes were also phased out last year.)
A sign that both Waymo and FCA are happy to keep working with each other
The partnership is non-exclusive, but its a sign that both Waymo and FCA are happy enough to continue working with each other. The Pacifica satisfies Waymo’s need for a vehicle that can be used to move a good number of people at once. (The Pacifica can hold up to 8 passengers.) And FCA gets to look good standing next to one of the world’s biggest tech giants with some of the best self-driving technology around. FCA is also a member of a self-driving technology partnership with BMW, Intel, and Mobileye.
“In order to move quickly and efficiently in autonomy, it is essential to partner with like-minded technology leaders,” said the automaker’s CEO Sergio Marchionne in a statement. “Our partnership with Waymo continues to grow and strengthen; this represents the latest sign of our commitment to this technology.”
(Of course, the famously quotable Marchionne paints a more realistic portrait in his IRL interviews. For example, he told Bloomberg a few weeks ago, “This business has never been for the fainthearted. The technology changes that are coming are going to make it probably more challenging than it’s ever been.”)
Waymo’s self-driving Pacifica minivans have been tested in 25 cities in the US (most of which are in California) and are currently on the road in five main cities: Atlanta, San Francisco, Detroit, Phoenix, and Kirkland, Washington. Last November, Waymo began test-driving its minivans on public roads in Phoenix without a driver at the wheel. And it has said that it will begin offering rides to members of its Early Rider program in its “fully driverless” minivans in the months ahead.