Car Industry

Waymo extends Fiat Chrysler partnership, may bring driverless tech to retail

With 62,2000 Chrysler Pacificas and upwards of 20,000 Jaguar I-Pace SUVs, Waymo is in the process of developing itself one heck of a driverless fleet.

Waymo

Waymo is about to expand its fleet of driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans in a big, big way. The company, the former Google Self-Driving Car Project, has announced a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to add up to 62,000 of the minivans to its self-driving fleet. That's a huge jump from the 600 Pacificas Waymo is already testing, and follows hot on the heels of the partnership announcement with Jaguar Land Rover, which will add up to 20,000 self-driving Jaguar I-Pace SUVs.

That's potentially a lot of cars, enough to build a sizable ride-hailing fleet. Yes, that may pale in comparison to the millions of drivers Uber has globally, but since Waymo's cars could theoretically drive 24 hours a day, stopping only to refuel or recharge, that gap gets a bit more narrow.

As of now, these cars are only planned to be deployed as part of Waymo's public, self-driving, ride-hailing fleet, which is still set to launch in Phoenix before the end of the year. However, with that many cars at Waymo's disposal, it seems like other locales are likely -- legislation willing.

Perhaps the bigger news, however, is that Waymo and FCA are working together to potentially bring this technology to retail. That is, to cars you and I could actually buy. That's a big pivot from exclusively creating a ride-sharing service and it will drastically change the demands of Waymo's technology. Perhaps the biggest challenge? Its tech will have to be cheap.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik has already touted the affordability of the company's system, saying it costs approximately $7,500 compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of other, prototype sensor packages. That's a huge savings, but still, a $7,500 option would make for a very expensive Chrysler Pacifica, and even that makes the unlikely assumption of no profit margins along the way.

And then, of course, there's the question of whether people will be cool with buying a car with a sensor beanie on top.

All that remains to be seen, but what's immediately clear is that Waymo, which was seemingly already leading the race to develop a viable autonomous system, now looks that much closer to making it a reality.