Waymo’s fleet of self-driving minivans is about to get a thousand times bigger

The size of Waymo's Chrysler Pacifica minivans fleet simply became radically larger. The Alphabet unit announced today that it has reached an agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), one of Detroit's three major automakers, for 62,000 additional minivans to be deployed as robot taxis. In addition, the two companies have also begun to discuss how to eventually sell driverless cars to customers as personal property vehicles.

Selling cars with Waymo's autonomous driving technology at Fiat Chrysler dealerships would be a dramatic escalation in Waymo's plan to take cars without a driver to the masses. To date, the company has only vaguely talked about licensing its autoaction hardware and software to automakers. Today's confirmation of the negotiations with FCA is the first indication that you can own a driverless car built by Waymo.

but it's probably years away from that. Meanwhile, the news that Waymo is buying up to 62,000 additional minivans is certainly dazzling in its own right. That number includes the "thousands" of Chrysler Pacificas that FCA said in January that it would begin delivering to Waymo before the end of the year.

Waymo is widely seen as having the most advanced self-driving stack in the industry, with traditional carmakers such as GM and Ford biting at their heels. Currently, the company has around 600 minivans in its fleet, some of which are used to carry people in their Early Rider program in Phoenix, Arizona; others are being tested in states like California, Washington, Michigan and Georgia. The first 100 minivans were delivered when the association was announced in May 2016, and an additional 500 were delivered in 2017.

Last November, Waymo began driving its minivans on public roads in Phoenix without a human driver at the wheel. Soon after, he began inviting his Early Rider members to these fully driverless vehicles for test trips in preparation for the launch of a fully driverless commercial taxi service in Arizona later this year.

Neither Waymo nor FCA would reveal the amount of money that was negotiating. The manufacturer's suggested retail price for the Chrysler Pacifica 2018 hybrid minivan starts at $ 26,995. So, unless FCA is giving Waymo a volume discount of some kind, which seems likely, this deal could be worth more than $ 1 billion.

The minivans are hybrid variants connectable with the integrated Waymo self-directed hardware and software. the companies collaborate in a facility in Michigan, near the FCA headquarters in the USA. UU., To design the vehicles. Waymo also has a fleet of autonomous Lexus RX SUVs that it has been eliminating in favor of the new minivans. (Egg prototypes "Firefly" were also eliminated last year.)

The agreement between Waymo and FCA is not exclusive, but it is a sign that Both Waymo and FCA are happy to continue working with each other. The Pacifica satisfies Waymo's need for a vehicle that can be used to move a large number of people at a time. (The Pacifica can accommodate up to eight passengers). And FCA looks good next to one of the biggest technological giants in the world with some of the best automotive technologies. FCA is also a member of an automatic driving technology partnership with BMW, Intel and Mobileye.

In March, Waymo announced a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover that will result in the addition of up to 20,000 fully electric Jaguar I-Pace SUVs to the Waymo fleet. The first I-Pace prototype with Waymo's automatic driving technology will go on the road for public testing at the end of 2018, and officially it will become part of the commercial service of Waymo since 2020.

Waymo has been in talks with Honda since the end of 2016, when the company was still hosted on Google. Instead of moving people, the partnership with Honda will focus on the delivery of products. Waymo has said that the four pillars of his commercial business will be logistics and passenger transportation, which will help connect people with public transport and provide their autonomous technology to car manufacturers for personally owned vehicles.

The announcement came shortly after the news that Japan's SoftBank would be investing $ 2.25 billion in General Motors' self-driving cruiser division. The money is meant to help accelerate GM's plans to launch its own commercial taxi service in 2019.

That said, it's a time of great anxiety for the fledgling auto industry. A fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, in March marked the first death of an autonomous automobile in the US. UU Several accidents involving Tesla vehicles using semi-autonomous autopilot systems, one of them fatal, have also dominated the headlines in recent weeks. And public opinion about driverless cars is declining, and more and more people report that they would be too afraid to ride in a vehicle without a driver.

It will be a challenge for Waymo, GM and others to convince people that safety is paramount, especially as more autonomous vehicles begin to hit the road.

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