Google parent Alphabet Inc. plans to start a ride-sharing service with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NA’s (IW 1000/20) minivans as part of a reorganization of the tech company’s automotive unit, people familiar with the matter said.
Google will deploy a semi-autonomous version of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan that it’s developing with the Italian-American carmaker for the new service as early as the end of 2017, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the matter is private. Alphabet and Fiat Chrysler declined to comment on their plans.
The U.S. tech company separated its autonomous vehicle project into a new Alphabet holding company called Waymo and said the “next step will be to let people use our vehicles to do everyday things like run errands, commute to work, or get safely home after a night on the town.”
John Krafcik,CEO of Waymo, said the company is adding new sensors to Chrysler vehicles now, but didn’t comment on how program has evolved. “FCA has been a wonderful partner,” he added at an event in San Francisco on December 13.
For the service, Google will need more than the 100 Pacificas it agreed to develop with Fiat Chrysler in May. The companies announced plans that month to create about 100 prototypes based on the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid-powered minivan for Google to test its self-driving technology.
Fiat Chrysler, the first major automaker to strike a deal with Google for self-driving vehicles, has favored cooperating with tech giants to navigate potentially profound changes in the auto industry. The manufacturer will reveal a fully electric vehicle based on the Pacifica at the CES electronics show in Las Vegas next month as it pushes for a role in the car industry’s shift toward battery-powered models, people familiar with the matter said last week.
Krafcik, the former Hyundai executive tapped to lead Alphabet’s car unit last year, has repeatedly spoken publicly about the company’s willingness to partner with automakers. But many manufacturers have staved off Alphabet’s overtures, wary of its software control. In recent months, a wave of staffers left the Alphabet car team, including its chief technician and several early engineers.
By Tommaso Ebhardt, Daniele Lepido and Mark Bergen