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FCA confirms Google collaboration

Pacific motion: In standard form, Chrysler's Pacifica Hybrid offers seating for eight and a 214kW hybrid powertrain, but with Google's help it will gain driverless technology.

Google takes autonomous tech further with Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid mule

Chrysler logo4 May 2016

GOOGLE has taken a significant step toward its first production self-driving car by announcing a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) that will allow the tech giant to graduate from its benign Noddy car to a full-fat Chrysler people-mover.

Until now, Google has been developing its autonomous technology in its own interpretation of a car, but the decision to use Chrysler's Pacifica Hybrid is the first time the technology company has enlisted the help of an auto-maker.

Google will lift the array of sensors and computers that it has refined in its bubble-car and plug the technology into Chrysler's people-mover, allowing the company to continue working toward a functioning prototype that may one day sire a production model.

A fleet of about 100 Pacificas will more than double Google's fleet of development vehicles and will roll out later this year. The cars will be modified at a dedicated manufacturing facility in Michigan, with design teams from both organisations co-habiting the centre.

The fleet will undergo initial testing on Google's private test track, before joining the existing Google car in public road trials, which are already under way in four United States cities.

FCA's CEO Sergio Marchionne said the agreement with Google would benefit both global giants and consumers alike.

“Working with Google provides an opportunity for FCA to partner with one of the world’s leading technology companies to accelerate the pace of innovation in the automotive industry,” he said.

“The experience both companies gain will be fundamental to delivering automotive technology solutions that ultimately have far-reaching consumer benefits.”

Google's self-driving car project CEO John Krafcik repeated Mr Marchionne's sentiments, highlighting the safety advantages of autonomous vehicles.

“FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well-suited for Google’s self-driving technology,” he said.

“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.”

Google's fleet of prototype cars have provoked mixed feelings since they were first sighted on roads around the US in 2014, and the adoption of a more conventional package for the emerging technology may provide a smokescreen from naysayers.

Last year, tech guru and chairman of software company Ygomi Russel Shields described the Google car as “a joke” while a number of minor crashes involving the prototype have been reported.

However, the fleet of development vehicles also continues to generate positive dialogue among the public and press alike.

Google and FCA now join the growing list of other car-manufacturers in the race to become the first to successfully negotiate the minefield of autonomous car legislation, and offer a series production model available for sale.

Before the Noddy model, Google had used a variety of mules to house and evaluate its driverless tech, including Toyota's Prius hybrid hatch and the Lexus RX SUV, but the first prototypes did not involve engineering input from either car-maker.

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