Waymo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have signed a contract to develop and test autonomous vans and other light commercial vehicles for the transportation of goods. The agreement is an extension of a partnership that began four years ago, focusing on self-driving Pacifica hybrid minivans for the transportation of people.
The deal is the latest example of Waymo's efforts to expand the delivery of its autonomous vehicle technology business. The two companies stated that the original plan was to integrate Waymo's self-driving stack – the suite of software and hardware that enables the vehicle to be operated without people behind the wheel – into the FCA Ram ProMaster Transporter. These self-driving vans are used by Waymo Via, the company's truck and local delivery service.
However, it seems that the contract terms could go way beyond Waymo Via. It is possible that the FCA supplies other transport companies with the self-driving transporters (equipped with Waymo technology) under a license agreement.
The companies said the partnership actually covers FCA's entire vehicle portfolio. The agreement between the FCA and Waymo also extends to future subsidiaries, according to those familiar with the partnership. This point is important as FCA and French automaker Groupe PSA are about to merge into a new company called Stellantis. If the 50:50 merger is completed as expected in the first quarter of next year, the agreement would theoretically include all brands that fall under Stellantis.
As extensive as the Waymo FCA agreement may be, the automaker has been looking for other partners in the autonomous automotive industry with different capacities. The FCA's approach to rapidly developing autonomous vehicle technology is to focus on vehicle-side needs while building intelligent and strategic collaborations that foster a culture of innovation, safety, and expertise, the automaker previously told theinformationsuperhighway.
Last year, FCA and the autonomous vehicle technology startup Aurora announced a partnership that also focused on light commercial vehicles. The FCA said it signed a memorandum of understanding with Aurora, an agreement that has since run its course, a spokesman said. The two companies are still working on tailor-made Pacifica hybrids that Aurora uses for their tests, but are not developing autonomous commercial vehicles.
"Over the past eighteen months, Aurora and FCA have worked closely together on the specification, design and development of custom Pacificas that we have integrated the Aurora driver into," said Aurora in an emailed statement. "Aurora looks forward to using our self-driving solution for FCA passenger and commercial vehicles."
FCA also supplies the self-driving vehicle startup Voyage with specially developed Pacifica hybrids that have been developed for the integration of automated technologies. These vehicles have adjustments such as redundant braking and steering that are required to safely use driverless vehicles.
Waymo is best known for developing, testing, and starting an on-demand self-driving car business, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivans. A spokesman confirmed that hailing is still the most important business.
While Waymo has spoken publicly about his ambitions for self-driving trucks, local vans, and even personal car ownership, the ramp-up of his Waymo One-Robotaxi service in Arizona has largely overshadowed these plans.
Waymo first integrated its self-driving system into Class 8 trucks and began testing in Arizona in August 2017. These tests were discontinued some time later this year. The company did not return its truck tests to Arizona until May 2019.
These early tests in Arizona aimed to gather initial information about driving trucks in the region, while the new round of truck testing represented a more advanced stage in the development of the program, Waymo said at the time.
Waymo's trucking program has had a higher priority since June 2019 when the company hired 13 robotics experts, including Anki's co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, to head engineering in the autonomous trucking department.