Fiat Chrysler and Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet Co., are expanding their partnership in an ambitious plan to develop fully autonomous commercial delivery vehicles and integrate Level 4 autonomous technology across the FCA fleet, the two companies said Wednesday.
The agreement makes FCA (soon to be dubbed Stellantis when the PSA merger is complete) the exclusive partner for Waymo to develop and test self-driving Class 1-3 light commercial delivery vehicles. Initial efforts will focus on integrating the Waymo Driver system into the Ram ProMaster cargo van for commercial fleets, including Waymo Via, which have seen demand for home delivery services mushroom during the coronavirus pandemic. Conversely, FCA has tapped Waymo as its exclusive supplier for Level 4 self-driving technology across its vehicle fleet, opening up possibilities for ride-hailing and personal-use vehicles.
An FCA spokesman would not commit to any timelines for integrating Waymo’s self-driving technology into the ProMaster or other brands or models. The Society of Automotive Engineers defines Level 4 systems as fully automated driving, though a human driver can manually override and take control of the wheel. There are currently no Level 4 autonomous vehicles offered to customers, and most experts believe the technology still faces many obstacles to broad adoption and regulatory clearance.
“Our now four-year partnership with Waymo continues to break new ground,” Mike Manley, Fiat Chrysler’s CEO, said in a statement. “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.”
Waymo recently introduced its fifth generation of the Waymo Driver system, which it completely redesigned to be able to handle more environments and situations. It combines 360-degree lidar sensors positioned atop the vehicle and at four points around the sides, plus cameras and radars. Waymo said it had already manufactured the new sensors and integrated them onto Jaguar I-Pace test vehicles.
Waymo has been making inroads with established automakers, recently announcing an agreement with Volvo to develop autonomous ride-hailing vehicles and working with UPS to outfit 10,000 special-ordered electric delivery trucks. Earlier this year, the company announced it had won $2.25 billion in the first investment from outside of its corporate parent.
“FCA was our first OEM partner, and we’ve come a long way together,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said. “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.”