Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle unit Waymo will now move their self-driving technology into the commercial vehicle segment. The collaboration will see the companies develop and test autonomous cargo vans and associated light commercial vehicles, largely targeting the last-mile delivery segment.
Waymo’s collaboration with FCA goes back to 2016, when the companies started integrating Waymo Driver into FCA vehicles. Over the years, Waymo conducted pilot tests on Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans, predominantly testing them in Arizona and California. With Waymo’s minivans clocking over 13,000 miles on average without human intervention, the move into the commercial vehicle segment was expected.
The partnership will see Waymo being FCA’s exclusive, strategic technology partner for SAE Level 4 automation technology implementation across the automaker’s full product portfolio. Level 4 automation allows technology to fully control the vehicle, only needing remote human intervention during unusual situations in the driving environment.
In his statement, Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik commented on how FCA minivans were the first vehicles in the Waymo One fleet. “Guided by the Waymo Driver, they have now safely and reliably driven more fully autonomous miles than any other vehicles on the planet,” he said. Krafcik mentioned this association would open up new frontiers for ride-hailing, commercial delivery, and personal-use vehicles around the world.
The initial target in the commercial vehicle space will be to integrate Waymo Driver into the Ram ProMaster van, which will enable access to a variety of global commercial customers.
“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,” said Mike Manley, the CEO of FCA, in his statement. “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.”
The autonomous driving segment has been heavily contested, with several large automakers spinning-off self-driving units and acquiring or collaborating with startups in the space.
Although an exciting technology, developing fully autonomous vehicles is a financial sink-hole, which has led automakers to create elaborate partnerships to share expertise and costs – like with BMW and Daimler partnering in the autonomous car segment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought in mixed fortunes to the autonomous driving market. While venture capital investment might slide this year due to the economy’s fragility, the need for social distancing and the ‘new normal’ has led to a spike in interest over self-driving vehicles.
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