Waymo, the Google self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet, is expanding its partnership with Fiat Chrysler with an order of up to 62,000 self-driving minivans for its driverless ride-hailing service.
The two companies are also in early discussions on a possible licensing deal that would allow Fiat Chrysler to sell vehicles equipped with Waymo’s self-driving technology to consumers. In other words, the public may someday be able to buy a self-driving Fiat Chrysler vehicle of their very own. Waymo CEO John Krafcik has hinted at plans to license its self-driving tech before. However, mentions of licensing were typically vague and seemed to be a development that would happen in the distant future.
This is the first time the company has disclosed its discussions with an automaker to make self-driving vehicles available for the public to buy. If a licensing deal were to materialize, it would be non-exclusive, according to Waymo. The company emphasized that talks were in an early stage.
“FCA is committed to bringing self-driving technology to our customers in a manner that is safe, efficient and realistic,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement Thursday. “Strategic partnerships, such as the one we have with Waymo, will help to drive innovative technology to the forefront.”
To date, FCA has delivered 600 Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo.
Deliveries of the Waymo-branded self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will begin in late 2018. Waymo didn’t provide details on the terms of the deal, including when the order of 62,000 vehicles would be complete. The order builds off of FCA’s previous commitment, announced in January, to deliver thousands of vehicles to Waymo’s autonomous ride-hailing service.
Waymo continues to get closer to its goal of launching a ride-hailing service that uses self-driving vehicles to the public. In March, Waymo began shuttling a group of pre-approved “early riders” in self-driving vehicles without a human test driver behind the wheel in the suburbs of Phoenix, where the company has been testing its technology.
The company also announced in March a strategic partnership with Jaguar Land Rover. Under the partnership, the new all-electric I-Pace crossover sport utility produced by Jaguar Land Rover will become the next self-driving vehicle in Waymo’s fleet.
Waymo will start testing a self-driving version of the I-Pace this year and make it part of its driverless fleet beginning in 2020. Ultimately, up to 20,000 modified I-Pace vehicles will join Waymo’s soon-to-be-launched driverless ride-hailing service in the first two years of operation. With this many self-driving I-Pace vehicles, Waymo will theoretically be able to provide 1 million driverless trips a day, Waymo CEO Krafick said at the time of the announcement.
Waymo began testing its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Chandler in 2016. The company launched an early rider program in April 2017 that let real people in the Phoenix area use an app to hail one. But these rides always had a human behind the wheel.