Fiat Chrysler, Google’s Waymo debut self-driving Pacifica minivans
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment from Google’s self-driving car project, now known as Waymo.
The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant. They are now in the process of being retrofitted with Waymo’s fully self-driving technology, including a purpose-built computer and a suite of sensors, telematics and other systems, and will join Waymo’s self-driving test fleet in early 2017.
“The Pacifica Hybrid will be a great addition to our fully self-driving test fleet. Fiat Chrysler’s product development and manufacturing teams have been agile partners, enabling us to go from program kickoff to full vehicle assembly in just six months,” said Waymo CEO John Krafcik in an announcement Monday that included the first photos of the vehicles.
Waymo and Fiat Chrysler co-located part of their engineering teams at a facility in Novi to accelerate the overall development process. In addition, extensive testing was carried out at the automaker’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea and Arizona Proving Grounds, as well as Waymo test sites in California.
Using several early prototype minivans, the company has already run a gamut of tests, including over 200 hours of extreme-weather testing, according to Krafcik.
Engineering modifications to the minivan’s electrical, powertrain, chassis and structural systems were implemented to optimize the Pacifica Hybrid for Waymo.
“Our partnership with Waymo enables FCA to directly address the opportunities and challenges the automotive industry faces as we quickly approach a future where fully self-driving vehicles are very much a part of our daily lives,” said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.
The minivans will more than double Waymo’s self-driving vehicle fleet, which has driven more than 2.3 million miles since the project started in 2009. Its current fleet of vehicles includes 24 Lexus RX450h SUVs and 34 Google prototype vehicles that test in Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Washington; and Phoenix.
Waymo said it has nothing to share at this time about potentially expanding testing to Michigan.
Fiat Chrysler is the first and so far only automaker Google has teamed up with to launch a fleet of autonomous vehicles.
The partnership was announced in May. Aside from the announcement, neither side has discussed the deal or addressed a recent report that the minivans will be used in a ride-sharing service.
The production completion comes a week after Krafcik announced Google was spinning off its self-driving car project into an independent company Waymo. The company remains under the tech giant’s Alphabet Inc. parent company.
He described the new company as “a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.” He stressed that Waymo is “not a car company.”
“We’re not in the business of making better cars, we’re in the business of making better drivers,” he said.