Waymo orders 1,000s of Pacificas for driverless taxis
Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles announced Tuesday that Waymo has ordered thousands of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans for delivery by the end of this year as Google’s self-driving subsidiary expands its driverless ride-hailing service to multiple cities.
The Pacifica hybrid will be Waymo’s primary workhorse when its service debuts in Phoenix sometime this year. Other cities have not been announced.
The sleek minivans will be equipped with steering wheels, but will not have drivers in the front seats. Waymo, which had previously ordered 600 Pacificas, is expected to launch the world’s first driverless service offered to the public. General Motors has petitioned the federal government to allow its Chevy Bolt autonomous vehicles — the first robotic cars without steering wheels — on the road by 2019.
“With the world’s first fleet of fully self-driving vehicles on the road, we’ve moved from research and development, to operations and deployment,” Waymo boss John Krafcik said in a statement. “The Pacifica Hybrid minivans offer a versatile interior and a comfortable ride experience, and these additional vehicles will help us scale.”
The three-row minivans are produced in Windsor and then shipped to a facility in Metro Detroit where they are outfitted with self-driving hardware and software by a team of Waymo and Chrysler engineers.
The hybrid’s electric powertrain makes an ideal vehicle to accommodate Waymo’s self-driving technology, which includes high-powered computers and lidar, which uses lasers to “see” what’s around the car.
“In order to move quickly and efficiently in autonomy, it is essential to partner with like-minded technology leaders,” said FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Our partnership with Waymo continues to grow and strengthen; this represents the latest sign of our commitment to this technology.”
Last November in Phoenix, Waymo began test-driving its fleet of minivans. While passengers are free to occupy any of the three rows of seats, the second row contains video screens so that occupants can follow the road from the vehicle’s perspective.
Without drivers, Waymo achieved a milestone as the first so-called “Level 4” autonomous vehicles, which can operate without drivers within limited geographic areas. Waymo and Chrysler are in a race with other Fortune 500 automotive and technology manufacturers — including heavyweights like GM, Toyota, Ford, Volvo, Intel, Apple, Nvidia, Intel and Uber — to produce the first successful autonomous ride-sharing services.
Waymo has tested its technology in 25 cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, San Francisco and Detroit. GM has been testing its Volt AV fleet in San Francisco in conjunction with Cruise Automation, and Uber and Volvo have been running public tests in Pittsburgh.
Chrysler began its collaboration with Waymo in late 2016 with the delivery of 100 Pacifica hybrids. An additional 500 were delivered in 2017.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.