Waymo & FCA are building 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans

December 19, 2016

For years, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has been searching for a partner--a company to help FCA develop and build tomorrow's cars. He first tried hooking up with General Motors and Ford, both of which shot him down. Then in April, he hit up Google.

By early May, it was clear that Google had returned Marchionne's affections. The two giants promised to work together on self-driving technology, using the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid as their guinea pig.

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Today, FCA's partnership with Google's self-driving car project (now called Waymo) has begun bearing fruit: FCA reports that 100 specially designed Pacifica Hybrid minivans have rolled off the assembly line and are now being equipped with Waymo's autonomous technology. In early 2017, the vehicles will join Waymo's test fleet, which has historically relied on Toyota and Lexus models.

What does all that mean for you? What does it mean for the soccer moms and dads of the world?

Nothing much--at least, not yet. The 100 Pacifica Hybrids are prototypes, that's all. Depending on where you live, you might seen one of the minivans roaming the roads, but as for experiencing one from the inside, don't hold your breath.

That said, this is a very important development for both FCA and Waymo for at least three reasons:

1. It gives Waymo an official partner: It's been clear for some time that Google/Waymo doesn't plan to manufacture vehicles of its own--at least not on any grand scale. Instead, it wants to follow the same gameplan that it's followed with smartphones, focusing most of its energies on software rather than hardware. Partnering with an established automaker like FCA is an important step toward realizing that goal.

2. It gives Waymo a good platform for testing its technology: In many ways, the Pacifica Hybrid is the perfect choice of vehicle to help Waymo develop real-world versions of self-driving software. Obviously, it's a big vehicle, which means there's plenty of room for computers, sensors, and such. It's also a hybrid, the same sort of tech-forward vehicle early adopters like--the same early adopters who may also be drawn to autonomous cars.

3. It's a minivan: Shoppers frequently choose minivans because they prioritize safety features. Given that one of the key selling points of self-driving technology is the dramatic improvement to safety if offers, minivans may be among the first fully autonomous vehicles to hit the road. Minivans are also easy to retrofit for the disabled and differently abled, another group that's expected to benefit hugely from self-driving tech. 

For more on this story, visit MotorAuthority.com.

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