Alphabet, Fiat Chrysler in Self-Driving Cars Deal – Wall Street Journal
Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV agreed to incorporate Alphabet’s self-driving technology into 100 Chrysler minivans, significantly expanding the tech giant’s test fleet of driverless vehicles and marking its first partnership with a major auto maker.
Alphabet and Fiat Chrysler engineers will collaborate in Michigan to redesign the 2017 Pacifica Hybrid minivan to integrate Alphabet’s computers, sensors and software, the companies said. The minivans, like Alphabet’s other self-driving cars, will be solely for testing.
Alphabet aims to have the first driverless minivans on the road by year’s end but declined to provide a timeline for all 100 vehicles.
By expanding the test fleet, the agreement will help Alphabet’s quest to automate the world’s vehicles. Alphabet’s current fleet of 70 self-driving cars has driven more than 1.5 million miles in California, Washington, Texas and Arizona.
The deal is also a small but critical win for Fiat Chrysler, which has been viewed as lagging in rapidly advancing driverless technology. Other major auto makers, like Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co., are investing in their own driverless-car technology, and generally have been hesitant to work with Alphabet. But Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne has resisted developing autonomous technologies, preferring to team up or buy what he needs later.
The deal could allow Fiat Chrysler and Alphabet later to design a new vehicle from the wheels up, rather than retrofitting a current model. Alphabet has said it has no plans to build its own cars.
In a statement, the head of Alphabet’s driverless-car efforts, former auto executive John Krafcik, said Fiat Chrysler’s “nimble and experienced engineering team” will help Alphabet “accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car.”
Mr. Marchionne added in the release: “The experience both companies gain will be fundamental to delivering automotive technology solutions.”
Alphabet’s self-driving fleet now includes Lexus sport-utility vehicles that Alphabet modified and prototype podlike cars built by Roush Industries Inc.
Alphabet and Fiat Chrysler want to have at least one prototype operational around the time of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, according to two people briefed on the matter. For the first time next year, the show will include space and a test track area for autonomous vehicles.
The vehicles will be built at the Windsor, Ontario plant that manufacturers the Pacifica. Mr. Marchionne is scheduled to make an appearance at the Windsor plant on Friday to celebrate the launch of the 2017 minivan.
Fiat Chrysler will build Pacific minivans to enable easy integration of Alphabet’s technology, which includes computers, sensors and software, according to the person.
The cars will just be for testing, and Alphabet won’t sell any of the minivans, this person said.
Alphabet expects to begin taking the cars over the next several months, the person added.