Alphabet's Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are set to announce a partnership which will see the two companies produce dozens of prototype self-driving vehicles based on the eight-seat Pacifica minivan.
The vans will be the largest yet to carry Google's self-driving technology, following modified versions of the Toyota Prius and Lexus RX450h, and Google's own two-seat 'pods'. Insiders claim Fiat will equip several dozen Chrysler Pacifica vans with Google's autonomous technology this year as part of the search giant's plans to bring entirely self-driving cars to public roads by the end of the decade.
Speaking to Bloomberg, people "familiar with the matter" but who could not be named said the partnership could be announced as soon as today, 3 May, and result in "several dozen" prototype vans being produced. The deal would come just four months after it was widely believed that Google would partner with Ford instead, a deal which never saw the light of day.
But this latest development doesn't mean such a deal couldn't happen at a later date. The Google/Fiat partnership would allow both companies to work on driverless technologies with other firms, the source said. If it goes ahead, the deal would be Google's first with a major car maker, while it would also help Fiat Chrysler take a shortcut and overtake rivals who have so far beaten it to bringing autonomous features to the road.
The Chrysler Pacifica makes a good testbed for Google's autonomous technology. There is plenty of space inside and out to fit sensors, cameras and a radar system for seeing other road users, while the van is also a plug-in electric hybrid. Recently launched, the Pacifica has a 16kWh battery and can travel 30 miles on electricity alone before firing up its petrol engine.