Fiat Chrysler strikes deal with Waymo to step-up driverless car ambitions

Waymo - Heather Somerville /REUTERS
Waymo – Heather Somerville /REUTERS

Fiat Chrysler has signed an exclusive deal with Google sister company Waymo in a bid to step-up its driverless car ambitions.

The two companies have been working together since 2016 on self-driving technology for minivans, but announced on Wednesday a doubling-down on their partnership to apply autonomous software to Fiat’s entire fleet of vehicles. 

“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,” said Mike Manley, Fiat Chrysler’s chief executive.

“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.”

Waymo, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has had close ties with Fiat Chrysler, which is currently in the midst of a $50bn merger with PSA, the French automotive firm.

In 2018, the Alphabet division ordered 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans for testing in locations such as Arizona, Texas and Michigan.

About | Vehicle autonomy levels
About | Vehicle autonomy levels

It has previously done work with the likes of Jaguar, Volvo and Nissan, while Fiat Chrysler has had a working relationship with Amazon-backed self-driving start-up, Aurora, over the last 18 months.

The vehicles are fitted with a range of sensors that work with Waymo’s software to detect traffic on the road and pedestrians. 

The new deal will see Waymo first turn its technology to Fiat Chrysler’s Ram ProMaster van to determine how to effectively use autonomy to address the rapid growth of goods delivery services witnessed during the pandemic.

Waymo’s self-driving vehicles have experienced a few crashes. In 2018, a Waymo vehicle crashed after a safety driver fell asleep at the wheel and accidentally turned off the car’s driverless mode.