Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Google could announce a joint venture as early as today, according to reports out of Milan.
The non-exclusive project would see FCA use the tech firm’s autonomous vehicle technology in several dozen prototypes based off the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan, according to a report by the Bloomberg news service. But several observers caution that a deal might take longer than expected, and note how a reported Ford-Google alliance failed to materialize, as many had expected, last January.
It would mark the first official alliance for Google, which has said it prefers to find partners to use its autonomous vehicle technology, rather than going into the car business itself. Meanwhile, FCA would suddenly move to the head of the class, rather than lagging at the back of the self-driving pack.
Neither company has so far commented on the wire reports, but the news is in line with comments made by John Krafcik, the head of Google’s autonomous vehicle program. He hinted at meetings with one or more Detroit automaker during a visit to the Motor City last January.
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For their part, senior officials at FCA have repeatedly expressed their interest in forming alliances in a bid to improve the company’s economy of scale. While the focus has been on a mainstream automotive partner – General Motors, Ford and Renault-Nissan among the makers rejecting a bid from FCA – Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne raised the possibility of partnering with Google last December.
And just last month, FCA Chairman John Elkann singled out the idea of working with “new industry participants.”
That wouldn’t limit FCA’s options to just Google, however. A number of new players see the opportunity to enter the traditional closed auto industry due to the emergence of game-changing technologies such as battery propulsion and autonomous vehicles. That list also includes Apple – which is widely believed to be working on a vehicle program – California-based Faraday Future, Future Mobility and others.
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Google could be a particularly good fit for FCA, however. The trans-Atlantic automaker is seen as lagging in several key areas, including both battery power and autonomous vehicle technology. Tying up with the Silicon Valley giant would potential address the latter issue, at least.
And it would help Google prove out its autonomous tech with a commercial partner. So far, Google has been relying on a small fleet of modified Toyota and Lexus products, and it is now rolling out a larger test fleet of bubble-shaped “Google cars,” built for it by Detroit-based auto supplier Rousch.
All told, Google claims to have so far logged over 1.4 million miles on public roads. It recently expanded its base of operations, adding Nevada to the list. It had been limited to areas near its headquarters in Silicon Valley, and a tech center in Austin, Texas. Krafcik said earlier this year that Google also hopes to begin testing its prototypes in even more exotics venues, including mountainous terrain and cold weather climates.
A critical challenge for autonomous vehicle researchers is making sure the technology can operate in all potential situations, including bad weather and on unmarked roads.
The deal between Google and FCA reportedly would be non-exclusive. Google has already been talking with a number of other potential partners, though Bloomberg claims a deal with General Motors fell apart because of concerns about data and the ownership of intellectual property.
A separate deal was expected between Google and Ford earlier this year, though an announcement at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas never materialized. Sources tell TheDetroitBureau.com that the Google-Ford discussions have yet to result in a firm plan.
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