Google’s newly formed self-driving vehicle division, dubbed Waymo, has unveiled it first new car as an independent company — and it’s a minivan.
It’s been less than a week since Waymo became its own standalone company under Google’s parent corporation Alphabet. Since then, Waymo is reportedly adding 100 bespoke Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to its autonomous vehicle test fleet, according to Wired.
The Chrysler-Waymo collaboration was first announced in May of this year, when the latter group was still called the Google Self-Driving Car Project. As part of the partnership, Chrysler modified many of the Pacifica’s parts specifically for Waymo, including its electrical and structural systems, chassis and powertrain, according to USA Today. They’re the first cars that Waymo is testing since becoming a standalone company, and they’re a far cry from the pod-like vehicles that the project has used before.
Neither company has stated where the collaboration is headed. Waymo’s main objective is to bring its technology and systems to the mass market, and teaming up with an established auto manufacturer makes sense for the company’s overall goal.
While the Pacifica might seem like an odd choice for the company’s first flagship collaboration, they are actually well-suited for the job. While Waymo’s research vehicles don’t necessarily need to be hybrids, the Pacifica is a drive-by-wire car — which is critical to Waymo’s self-driving system — and its spacious cargo capacity means more room for testers and research equipment, ARS Technica reported.
Some early prototypes of the minivans have already accumulated test miles at Google’s track in California, according to Waymo CEO John Krafcik. But despite rumors that the minivans will carry passengers by 2017, both companies denied that any ride-sharing service was in the works, and have stated that the Pacificas are purely test vehicles. On the other hand, Waymo has historically brought Google employees and selected guests for test rides in its prototypes.
The Chrysler Pacificas were developed at an R&D site in Michigan, and went through extensive testing at proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan and Yucca, Arizona before being shipped to Waymo, USA Today reported.