Google and FCA confirm plans for a fleet of autonomous minivans

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Confirming several recent reports, Google said it will collaborate with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) on the development of self-driving cars. This marks the first time Google has worked directly with a carmaker since it began experimenting with autonomous cars, as well as the first time FCA has dabbled in the technology in a significant way.

As previously reported, the first product of the partnership will be a fleet of self-driving 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan prototypes, Google confirmed in a blog post. Chrysler will prep 100 Pacifica plug-in hybrid models to be retrofitted with Google’s autonomous-driving hardware.

“FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well-suited for Google’s self-driving technology,” Google Self-Driving Car Project CEO John Krafcik said in a statement. Since taking over Google’s robo-car division, Krafcik has prioritized finding an automotive partner to help commercialize the technology.

Read more: Will self-driving cars lead to lower insurance bills?

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said the partnership would allow his company to “accelerate the pace of innovation in the automotive industry.” In reality, FCA will likely be playing catch up with companies like Nissan, Volvo, and Ford, which already have in-house autonomous car development projects underway. Marchionne believes partnerships are crucial to offsetting the costs of new technologies, and even mentioned a few months back that FCA would be eager to work on the rumored “Apple Car.”

The minivans will more than double Google’s current fleet of 70 autonomous test cars, which currently consists of Lexus RX 450h hybrid crossovers and small pod-like electric cars of Google’s own design. Google also previously fielded modified Toyota Prius hybrids. The tech giant did not receive any support from Toyota (which also owns Lexus) or any other carmaker on these projects, however.

Both Google and FCA will send engineers to a facility in southeastern Michigan, where development work on the autonomous Pacifica Hybrid prototypes will be managed. While Google currently tests its self-driving cars on public roads in California, Texas, Arizona, and Washington state, the Chryslers will be tested on closed tracks before being unleashed on the street.