Google's spin-off company Waymo has hired AutoNation, America's largest auto retailer, to maintain and repair its fleeting of driverless vehicles around the country, AutoNation said in a press release. That represents a very positive step for Waymo toward its driverless car and possible ride-sharing launch. "AutoNation will help assure that Waymo vehicles are always in top condition as we bring fully self-driving cars to the public," Waymo CEO John Krafcik said.
Once Waymo ditches drivers, its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans can operate nearly constantly, day and night, so the cars will need to be mechanically perfect or the results could be catastrophic. "These vehicles need to be in service for hundreds of thousands of miles, much more than personal-use vehicles, to make them economically viable," said AutoNation CEO Michael J. Jackson. "You have to do much more proactive, preventative maintenance that what a normal person would do with a car."
Waymo plans to operate fully autonomous, driverless vehicles as early as this fall. The company decided to skip Level 3 and other driverless modes that require human intervention, because test drivers were too distracted by things like sleeping and doing their makeup to take over quickly enough. However, Waymo engineers reportedly think Krafcik is too optimistic about launching fully autonomous, Level 5 cars so soon.
AutoNation operates in 16 states, and has already started servicing Waymo vehicles, it said. The news is certainly a strong sign that Google is nearly ready to put its tech onto city streets, something that Krafcik confirmed with reporters at a recent self-driving demonstration, the NYT notes. "We're really close," he said.