Fiat Chrysler and Waymo sign exclusive deal on self-driving commercial vehicles

Fiat Chrysler and Waymo have agreed on an exclusive deal to develop self-driving commercial vehicles, an area some believe could be the first widespread utilization of autonomous technology.

Waymo, a unit of Alphabet, will work with the Italian-American automaker to integrate its autonomous driving system, which it calls the "Waymo Driver," into the Ram ProMaster full-size van from Fiat Chrysler.

The tie-up consists of "light commercial vehicles," which are used for commercial delivery customers. Such vehicles primarily include delivery vans, large pickups and other big vehicles such as chassis cab trucks.

2019 Ram ProMaster


Automakers and tech companies for years have promised publicly available ride-hailing fleets but many such as Ford Motor have started focusing on commercial delivery for initial deployments of autonomous vehicles. The vehicles can be on set routes and don't have to deal with passengers. 

Separately, Fiat Chrysler has agreed to make Waymo its exclusive partner for future "Level 4" autonomous vehicles across the company's global fleet. Such vehicles can operate by themselves without driver supervision in most conditions. 

Waymo, in a blog post, said the companies have already "started to work together to imagine future FCA products for the movement of people and goods operated by the Waymo Driver."

The deal is anticipated to expand and continue with Fiat Chrysler's expected merger with French automaker PSA Group into a company called Stellantis. Fiat Chrysler and Waymo declined to release financial details of the deals. 

Waymo's deals with Fiat Chrysler come a month after the company announced a partnership with Volvo Cars Group to develop a self-driving electric vehicle designed for ride-hailing use in June. Volvo, like Fiat Chrysler, also agreed for Waymo to be its Level 4 partner on autonomous vehicles.

Partnering with automakers has been Waymo's strategy for testing and developing autonomous vehicles, which has been a harder task than many had expected even a few years ago. 

Fiat Chrysler was the first automaker to partner with Waymo in 2016. The automaker built and developed special versions of its Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivan for Waymo's testing fleet.

Waymo is considered among the leaders, if not the leader, in autonomous vehicle development and deployment. The company launched its first ride-hailing service, Waymo One, in December 2018. It mostly operates in the Phoenix area with some full-autonomous test cars and others that operate with trained safety drivers. Waymo, which is testing in other U.S. cities, also said it operates on "business applications," including a delivery service it calls Waymo Via.

In its first external investment round, Waymo in March announced a $2.25 billion in funding.

-- CNBC's Jennifer Elias contributed to this report.

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