Fiat Chrysler open to further partnership with Google

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Windsor — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne said Friday the company is open to furthering its partnership with Google Inc., initially slated to test Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans equipped with Google self-driving technology.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne answers questions from reporters about FCA partnership with Google on building the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid with google technology at the 2017 Detroit auto show.

“It is a very clear objective and very clear timeline,” he said. “What develops from here, we’ll see.”

Marchionne also said Fiat Chrysler remains open to working with other companies and said he was comfortable with Google partnering with others.The automaker and tech giant on Tuesday said they would work collaboratively to integrate Google’s autonomous technology into a fleet of 100 2017 Pacifica Hybrid minivans. The partnership, which is not exclusive, is the first time Google has worked with an automaker to integrate its autonomous driving system including sensors and software into a passenger vehicle.

“It’s too early in this process to try and make a call about with who we’re going to end up with for sort of the winning solution going forward,” he said of autonomous technology. “We are exploring with people who are willing to explore with us, who are willing to allow us into their world.”

When asked if Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, could be the company Fiat Chrysler ultimately partners with in his push to consolidate, he said he is “unclear” today if they could be that partner.

Marchionne for more than a year has said the auto industry needs to consolidate to save billions of dollars annually. He has said Fiat Chrysler has been in talks with many players outside the car sector about possible tie-ups.

Earlier this week, Fiat Chrysler and Google announced the two companies would partner to test self-driving minivans by the end of the year.

“They found it easy to work with us and to explore and learn,” Marchionne said of Google.

Marchionne was in Windsor for an employee celebration and media event to mark the launch of the new Pacifica minivan.

Marchionne said he was “relevant” in negotiations with Google and had conversations with John Krafcik, CEO of Google’s self-driving car project. He also said he felt safe riding in the Google self-driving car around Google’s California headquarters. He believes autonomous vehicles could be reality in five years.

“I see this as having tremendous use in real life. It’s not some pie-in-the-sky thing,” Marchionne said. “It’s real. It is coming. We can’t stop it.”

“We need to be able to walk this transition and I think walking in a collaborative fashion with people who have historically been viewed as .... potential enemies of our business and walking with them at their speed is the best possible solution for us,” Marchionne added.

Google said it will own the minivans and will be part of its testing program, with the tech company owning any data and information collected. That appeared to be a stumbling block with reported possible partnerships between Google and Ford Motor Co. and possibly General Motors Co.

Fiat Chrysler and Google will move members of their engineering teams to a facility in southeast Michigan to accelerate the design, testing and manufacturing of the self-driving Pacificas. Marchionne would not say Friday where the teams will work, who from Fiat Chrysler would lead the team, or how many employees from his company would be part of the effort, only saying “more than 10.”

The collaboration is expected to give Fiat Chrysler more credibility in the auto tech sector — a space in which it has been lacking compared to GM and Ford.

The self-driving Pacifica Hybrids will be tested by Google’s self-driving car team on the company’s track in California. Google also tests self-driving cars in Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Washington; and Phoenix, Arizona.

Google said testing the minivan gives it the opportunity to test a larger vehicle that could be easier for passengers to enter and exit. The minivan fleet will more than double Google’s current garage of 70 self-driving cars and increase its testing in a real production vehicle.

“FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well-suited for Google’s self-driving technology,” Google Self-Driving Car Project CEO John Krafcik said in a statement earlier this week. “The opportunity to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive.”

Fiat Chrysler on Friday celebrated the launch of its all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan at its Windsor Assembly Plant where the automaker has invested $744 million.

The automaker said it has hired more than 1,200 new workers since September 2014 to prepare for launching the sixth-generation family vehicle which recently went on sale. The plant now has about 6,000 employees who build the Pacifica on three shifts.

Chrysler has produced the minivan since 1983 and more than 14.3 million minivans have been sold since, including 10 million produced at the Windsor plant.

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