Google wants to take its self-driving cars to the next level.
Google has announced it will double its self-driving car fleet with 100 new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. The first few minivans will be on the road by the end of 2016. The company has partnered with Fiat Chrysler to install its self-driving systems - including the computers loaded with its self-driving software, and the sensors that enable the software to work - in the minivans.
"The minivan design also gives us an opportunity to test a larger vehicle that could be easier for passengers to enter and exit, particularly with features like hands-free sliding doors," Google explained in a Google+ blog post. "This experience will help both teams better understand how to create a fully self-driving car that can take you from A to B with the touch of a button."
According to Bloomberg, Google is planning to develop self-driving prototypes based on Fiat Chrysler's Pacifica minivan. The two companies are reportedly embarking on the first phase of a joint project to create autonomous vehicles. The new Pacifica will be a plug-in hybrid and should be available with Google's technology by sometime this year. Their partnership is not exclusive.
Keep in mind The Wall Street Journal and AutoExtremist both claimed earlier this month that Google has been in "late stage talks" with Fiat Chrysler on a partnership for several months - and they were supposedly reaching final negotiations. Now, Bloomberg has added that Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive at Fiat Chrysler, is directly involved in the more recent talks.
This partnership between Google and Fiat Chrysler is expected to be announced this week, marking the first time Google has paired with a major automaker to make a commercially-viable version of its self-driving cars, which currently look like golf cart prototypes. Google has conducted more than 1.4 million miles of tests on its self-driving prototypes.
Google's also been linked to General Motors in recent months. A potential partnership with that automaker was being mulled around, Bloomberg said, but it ultimately never came to fruition, as there were apparently disagreements over ownership of technology and data. We're assuming Google and Fiat Chrysler worked that stuff out.
If so, they are expected to make "several dozen" self-driving minivans.