Google, Fiat Chrysler team up on self-driving minivans

Wed May 4, 2016 7:32am EDT
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By Bernie Woodall and Edward Taylor

DETROIT/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc's Google (GOOGL.O: Quote) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI: Quote) (FCAU.N: Quote) have agreed to work together to build a fleet of 100 self-driving minivans, marking the first time that a Silicon Valley firm has teamed up with a traditional carmaker to develop an autonomous vehicle.

Google and Fiat said the deal announced on Tuesday was the first time Google has worked directly with an automaker "to integrate its self-driving system, including its sensors and software, into a passenger vehicle."

The growing use of computing power in vehicles is paving the way for intelligent, self-driving cars, creating new rivalries and business opportunities for both technology companies and automakers.

Unlike its rival premium carmakers Daimler (DAIGn.DE: Quote), BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) unit Audi, cash-strapped Fiat Chrysler has decided to turn to an industry outsider to develop intelligent, self-driving cars, not having the resources to do the work alone.

Fiat Chrysler has a net debt pile of 6.6 billion euros ($7.6 billion) and Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne has been trying unsuccessfully for more than a year to persuade rivals, including GM, to consider a merger to help spread the rising costs of research and development.

On Tuesday Google and Fiat Chrysler engineers said they will work together to fit Google's autonomous driving technology into the Chrysler Pacifica minivans, working together at a facility in Southeast Michigan, where Fiat Chrysler has its major North American engineering center, the companies said.

Google has said that it does not want to build self-driving vehicles on its own and has explored alliances with auto companies, but none has been finalized. Working more closely with Fiat Chrysler could help Google refine its systems as a step towards offering them in regular production cars.

The deal does not preclude either FCA or Google from cooperating with others, and Google said it is not sharing with Fiat proprietary self-driving technology developed for another prototype vehicle.   Continued...

A Lexus version of a Google Self Driving car is shown in Moutain View, California, U.S., April 8, 2016.  REUTERS/Alexandria Sage/File Photo