Google parent Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (NYSE: FCAU) agreed to incorporate Alphabet’s self-driving technology into 100 Chrysler minivans, significantly expanding the tech giant’s test fleet of driverless vehicles and marking its first partnership with a major auto maker.
The added vehicles are needed as Google expands real-world testing. Google says it will own the gas-electric hybrid vans, and it's not currently licensing autonomous car technology to Fiat Chrysler or anyone else. Both companies are free to work with others as well.
The agreement between Google and Fiat Chrysler comes as rival technology and auto companies are accelerating efforts to master the complex hardware and artificial intelligence systems required to allow vehicles to pilot themselves.
“The opportunity to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive,” John Krafcik, chief executive of the Google Self-Driving Vehicle Project, said in a statement.
Currently Google's 7-year-old autonomous car project, which is now part of the so-called X lab at Alphabet Inc., Google's Mountain View-based parent company, has 21 Lexus SUVs modified to drive autonomously, plus another 33 pod-like small cars.
Fiat Chrysler, which has lagged bigger, richer rivals like Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. in the development of self-driving cars, will welcome the chance to test Google's technology. The Italian-American automaker also has manufacturing expertise and factories that Google lacks.
By 2030 fully self-driving cars will likely account for just 15 percent of global car sales, meaning non-autonomous vehicles will remain the larger opportunity for Fiat. Fiat Chrysler's chairman, John Elkann, said, "Boring old carmakers need to figure out how to make this profitable and guard against falling into the 1990 trap of ignoring that business while chasing profits in other parts of the value chain.".