Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (IW 1000/26) and Alphabet Inc.’s Google plan to develop several dozen self-driving prototypes based on the carmaker’s Pacifica minivan in the first phase of a joint project to create autonomous vehicles, people familiar with the matter said.
Fiat Chrysler plans to equip the new Pacifica, which will be available as a plug-in hybrid, with Google technology starting this year, said the people, who asked not to be identified before an official announcement. The companies would remain free to cooperate in driverless technology with other partners, the people said.
An agreement could be signed as early as May 3, the people said. Representatives for Google and Fiat Chrysler declined to comment on possible cooperation.
The accord would mark Google’s first with a major automaker since the technology giant began developing self-driving cars on its own in 2014. For Fiat Chrysler, the deal would provide a shortcut to features that have taken on growing importance for the auto industry. Fiat Chrysler Chairman John Elkann said last month that the Italian-American carmaker should work with “new industry participants” like Google and Apple Inc. rather than compete with them.
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who mentioned a possible partnership with Google in December, has been directly involved in talks with the U.S. company, people familiar with the matter said in April.
Google, which has run more than 1.4 million miles of tests on its own driverless prototypes, has been in discussions with various auto manufacturers about working together. A deal with General Motors Co. couldn’t be concluded because of disagreements over ownership of technology and data, a person familiar with the matter said in April.
Partnering with Google is in keeping with Marchionne’s approach to development. He contends that carmakers waste capital developing multiple versions of the same technology and that the industry should consolidate to become more profitable. He intends to put Fiat Chrysler in a better position for a merger by the time he steps down as the manufacturer's CEO in 2018.