By on July 22, 2020

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Waymo jointly announced plans to expand their autonomous driving partnership on Wednesday, with a new focus on delivery vehicles. The Google affiliate already uses Chrysler’s Pacifica as the primary testing platform for its autonomous taxi services, and it appears it isn’t eager to rock the boat, now that it needs something more utilitarian as it moves toward SAE Level 4.

While not completely self-driving, such vehicles would be capable of performing all necessary tasks under certain conditions. They may be designed for a specific purpose and lack traditional vehicle controls. Waymo seems to think they’d be ideal units for transporting goods and has asked FCA to hand over Ram ProMaster vans for conversion into test mules. It also asked the automaker to become its sole partner on the project — which is assumed to carry over once the company merges with Groupe PSA to become the Stellantis corporation. 

FCA began providing its Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo to test self-driving technology half a decade ago, leading to the firm’s Phoenix-based ride-hailing service (which tests the autonomous cab concept. While the unit has also been modified to take on delivery duties, Waymo believed a dedicated platform would be best. The ProMaster is starting the party — with both companies suggesting it would be easier to configure for a multitude of purposes — and will eventually be joined by other models as FCA remains a “preferred partner” in the development program for commercial vehicles (Class 1-3).

“FCA was our first OEM partner and we’ve come a long way together,” John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, said in a prepared statement. “The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans were the first vehicles in our Waymo One fleet and, guided by the Waymo Driver, have now safely and reliably driven more fully autonomous miles than any other vehicle on the planet. Today, we’re expanding our partnership with FCA with the Waymo Driver as the exclusive L4 autonomy solution for this global automotive company. Together, we’ll introduce the Waymo Driver throughout the FCA brand portfolio, opening up new frontiers for ride-hailing, commercial delivery and personal-use vehicles around the world.”

While the company has contracts to outfit other vehicles for testing purposes, the Chrysler got there first and has arguably offered the most constancy. Some of the all-electric models selected by Waymo (e.g. Jaguar’s I-Pace) have confronted production issues and have been rumored to be slow upon arrival. That doesn’t seem to have discouraged Waymo from using them; however, FCA products have become synonymous with the brand and vastly outnumber anything else in its fleet.

“Our now four-year partnership with Waymo continues to break new ground. By incorporating the Waymo Driver, the world’s leading self-driving technology, into our Pacifica minivans, we became the only partnership actually deploying fully autonomous technology in the real world, on public roads. With this next step, deepening our relationship with the very best technology partner in this space, we’re turning to the needs of our commercial customers by jointly enabling self-driving for light commercial vehicles, starting with the Ram ProMaster,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley explained.

“Adding Waymo’s commitment to partner with us to deploy its L4 fully autonomous technology across our entire product portfolio, our partnership is setting the pace for the safe and sustainable mobility solutions that will help define the automotive world in the years and decades to come.”

Despite Krafcik’s occasional talk about subscription models and the changing nature of vehicle ownership leaving us intermittently annoyed, Waymo is viewed as the industry leader in autonomous development. It also has one of the better track records for safety. Still, there’s no sense of when these new programs will begin or a timeline for when we might expect to see sensor-enhanced ProMasters roaming the countryside.

[Images: FCA]

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