Waymo, Google's new autonomous vehicle division, has finally unveiled its latest model: a heavily modified Chrysler Pacifica. The hybrid minivan, which can go 30 miles in pure electric mode, was glimpsed earlier in spy photos at a Google facility. It's now fixed up with the custom computer, sensors and telematics used on Google's Lexus SUV and other self-driving cars. Waymo didn't just bolt the tech on, though. Rather, its engineering team worked together with Fiat Chrysler (FCA) at a special facility in southeastern Michigan.
"FCA's product development and manufacturing teams have been agile partners, enabling us to go from program kickoff to full vehicle assembly in just six months," said Waymo CEO John Krafcik. The plan was first leaked in May and later confirmed by Google, so it's actually been over seven months, but Google still met its year-end schedule to unveil the car. Waymo has already done "over 200 hours of extreme-weather testing" in California and at FCA's Arizona and Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds. Krafcik says.
These aren't your stock minivans -- FCA and Waymo teams modified the electrical, powertrain, chassis and structural system to better accommodate the extra weight and energy draw of Google's devices. While not glamorous, the Pacifica's ubiquity made it an obvious choice, Krafcik wrote in a Medium blog. "With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we'll learn how people of all ages, shapes, and group sizes experience our fully self-driving technology."
Chrylser CEO Sergio Marchionne says such partnerships "are vital to promoting a culture of innovation, safety and technology." He adds that the deal gives Fiat Chrysler an inside track to autonomous driving tech. "Our partnership with Waymo enables FCA to directly address ... a future where fully self-driving vehicles are very much a part of our daily lives." Judging by a the rush to release new autonomous features, that self-driving future may be dawning faster than automakers hoped.