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Driverless Pacifica’s public debut set for Detroit

Michael Wayland

Waymo, the company created to take over Google’s self-driving car project, will debut one of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans next month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

John Krafcik, Waymo CEO, tweeted out the news early Tuesday afternoon: “Look forward to having our new fully self-driving minivan onstage for our keynote.”

Krafcik has a keynote Jan. 8 during the auto show’s Automobili-D tech showcase. There are no plans to offer test rides or display the vehicle during the show’s public days from Jan. 14-22.

The companies released the first images of the vehicles on Monday. However, the Detroit auto show is expected to be the first time one is shown publicly.

“Under John’s leadership, Waymo has transformed the conversation around transportation and their recent announcement looks to further disrupt the industry,” said Sam Slaughter, 2017 NAIAS Chairman. “Waymo’s participation, along with the 120-plus other global companies selecting to showcase their mobility-focused innovations at NAIAS within AutoMobili-D, further solidifies Detroit’s role as the global epicenter for automotive, both current and future.”

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids recently were completed at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’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.

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 already has run a gamut of tests, including more than 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.

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.

Krafcik last week announced Google was spinning off its self-driving car project into an independent company known as 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.”

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