Fiat Chrysler signs deal with Waymo as it ends Aurora ties

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said on Wednesday it has signed an “exclusive” deal to work with Google sibling Waymo on self-driving technology, ending its 18 month relationship with Amazon-backed Aurora.

As FCA is merging with France’s PSA in a $50bn deal to create one of the world’s largest carmakers, the agreement marks a win for Waymo as it tries to bring the technology it has been building since 2009 into the mainstream.

FCA and Waymo also agreed to build a fleet of autonomous vans for Waymo Via, the goods delivery service.

“Deepening our relationship with the very best technology partner in this space, we’re turning to the needs of our commercial customers by jointly enabling self-driving for light commercial vehicles, starting with the Ram ProMaster,” said Mike Manley, FCA chief executive.

FCA was the first car group to team up with Waymo in 2016, selling it Chrysler Pacifica minivans for use in a public ride-hailing fleet. Waymo has since entered into deals with Jaguar — agreeing to buy up to 20,000 vehicles in 2018 — as well as Volvo, Renault and Nissan.

Waymo has agreed to only deploy FCA products for its delivery service, but it can still work with its other partners on cars.

For the first time, FCA is allowed to use Waymo technology across its global portfolio. FCA has long been considered an industry laggard for its in-house self-driving technology, but now it will have access to top technology without having to develop expensive systems itself.

Two people familiar with the matter said the partnership would end FCA’s relationship with Aurora, a self-driving start-up led by former Waymo technology head Chris Urmson. Aurora was valued at $2.5bn last year when it raised $530m in a round led by venture capital group Sequoia, with Amazon contributing.

Aurora said in a statement that it would continue to work with custom built Chrysler Pacificas, but two people said formal collaboration had been discontinued. That could be a blow to Aurora, coming 13 months after Volkswagen ended its relationship in favour of investing in rival Argo AI. A month ago Amazon acquired driverless start-up Zoox for $1.3bn.

Waymo’s agreement to build delivery vans with FCA marks another example of how leaders in self-driving are pushing the technology into logistics and goods delivery, as it becomes clear that the quest to build a driverless Uber service will take much longer than expected.

Aurora is also heading in that direction, announcing on Monday that its “first commercial product will be in trucking”.

In 2018, a year of peak hype for robotaxis, Waymo agreed to purchase up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacificas from FCA in anticipation of scaling up its Waymo One service.

More than two years later, however, that service is confined to a single area in Phoenix, where its fleet operates between 1,000 and 2,000 rides a week — 5 to 10 per cent of which are driverless. The Waymo fleet of vehicles is still assumed to be in the hundreds, and certainly not in the tens of thousands, though a spokesperson declined to clarify.

Still, Waymo is widely considered the industry leader and it has test vehicles in 25 cities. Earlier this year it raised $3bn at a valuation of more than $30bn.