Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) said last week it has completed the development of 100 uniquely outfitted Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and has delivered them to Waymo, which will turn them into the industry’s first test fleet of fully autonomous minivans.
The test fleet is part of a collaboration announced in May between the Auburn Hills automaker and Waymo, a company that was previously known as Google’s Self-Driving Car Project until it renamed itself the other week.
For Waymo, FCA modified the Pacifica’s electrical, powertrain, chassis and structural systems. Waymo will now outfit the Pacificas with its self-driving technology, including an additional computer and a suite of sensors that enables the vehicle to digitally map its surroundings, allowing it to self-drive.
“The Pacifica Hybrid will be a great addition to our fully self-driving test fleet. FCA’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,” Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik said in a statement. “They’ve been great partners, and we look forward to continued teamwork with them as we move into 2017.”
Waymo is expected to deploy the test fleet next year.
Krafcik, in a blog post, said Waymo must test and explore all kinds of vehicles to see what works best as a driverless car.
“With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we’ll learn how people of all ages, shapes, and group sizes experience our fully self-driving technology,” Krafcik said.
FCA’s relationship with Waymo is the automaker’s highest-profile move in the industry’s race to develop and perfect fully autonomous, or self-driving vehicles.
“As consumers’ transportation needs evolve, strategic collaborations such as this one are vital to promoting a culture of innovation, safety and technology,” FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement. “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.”
Other automakers, including Ford and General Motors, have made even more aggressive moves than FCA.
GM said last week it will begin testing a fleet of autonomous Chevrolet Bolts on public roads around Metro Detroit next year and said the driverless Bolts will be assembled at the Orion Assembly plant in Oakland County. Ford has done some testing on public roads since July 2015, has developed a test fleet of Ford Fusion Hybrids and has said it intends to sell an autonomous vehicle by 2021.
FCA has declined to comment on reports that Waymo and the automaker are planning to launch a ride-sharing service, like Uber, and that the relationship could lead to the development of many more driverless Pacificas.
The first 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids were developed by a joint team of engineers from FCA and Waymo at a research and development site in southeastern Michigan to accelerate the overall development process. FCA also said extensive testing was conducted at FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, and Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, Arizona, as well as Waymo test sites in California. Those tests includes more than 200 hours of extreme weather testing.