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Transport

Fiat Chrysler and Waymo to develop a self-driving van

by Graham Hope
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Alphabet’s subsidiary chosen as the exclusive strategic technology partner for the maker of Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Maserati

A self-driving van is next on the agenda for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Waymo, after the duo solidified their partnership with a new deal.

The two have been collaborating for four years, but have announced a new project which will result in an autonomous light commercial vehicle based on the Ram ProMaster.

In addition, FCA – which includes Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati and Ram in its portfolio – confirmed that it has chosen Waymo to be its exclusive strategic technology partner for Level 4 fully self-driving tech across its entire range of vehicles.

A star is born

The move to develop a van ties in with Waymo’s plans for a delivery service called Waymo Via. The company, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent firm, aims to utilize self-driving tech in delivery vehicles including heavy goods and light commercial. Its Waymo Driver tech is already being trialed in Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.

The adaptability and configurability of the Ram ProMaster is considered key to the partnership, as it will ensure a wide range of potential customers.

The focus on a commercial van is seen as significant by industry observers. While it was generally accepted that robotaxis would be among the first vehicles to use fully autonomous tech, that perception is shifting due to the ongoing effects of the coronavirus lockdown.

With millions of people working from home across the globe – and likely to remain doing so in future – there is a growing realization that self-driving home delivery services would be a huge breakthrough.

Commenting on the brands’ blossoming relationship, FCA chief executive officer Mike Manley said: “By incorporating the Waymo Driver, the world’s leading self-driving technology, into our Pacifica minivans, we became the only partnership deploying fully autonomous technology in the real world on public roads.

“With this next step, we’re turning to the needs of our commercial partners. 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.”

John Krafcik, chief executive at Waymo, added: “Together we’ll introduce the Waymo Driver throughout the FCA brand portfolio, opening up new frontiers for ride-hailing, commercial delivery and personal-use vehicles around the world.”

Waymo has agreements in place with other automotive players. In June, Volvo said it would work with the company as its exclusive, global Level 4 partner. Waymo has collaborated with Jaguar Land Rover on an autonomous version of Jaguar’s i-Pace SUV. And last year, it confirmed plans to develop driver-less vehicles alongside Renault and Nissan.

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