Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) subsidiary Waymo and Fiat Chrysler (NYSE: FCAU) are developing a ride-sharing service and planning to deploy a self-driving minivan by the end of 2017.
The first part of the plan was to spin the Google Car project off into a separate company called Waymo, Bloomberg Technology reported. Waymo is an independently-operating subsidiary of Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL). Waymo’s CEO is John Krafick, an auto industry veteran who formerly worked for Honda Motors (NYSE: HM).
The second is to develop a self-driving version of Chrysler’s Pacifica minivan which is already well underway. The two companies are testing around 100 of the vehicles in Michigan. An electric version of the Pacifica is scheduled to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Detroit Auto Show this month.
The third part of the plan is a new app that can efficiently determine pickup locations, routes and destinations for autonomous vehicles, The Verge reported. The app is supposed to become the backbone of a centralized dispatching system that can provide suggested locations for pickups, waiting and drop offs.
Alphabet is Building Sensors for Self-Driving Car
A fourth part of the plan might be to test the self-driving Chrysler Pacificas in Mountain View, California; home of the Googleplex, and Phoenix at the end of January, The View reported. There has been some speculation that Waymo and Chrysler are planning to launch an autonomous ride-sharing service to compete with Uber and Lyft.
Even though the vans are manufactured by Chrysler, Alphabet itself reportedly built all the electronics and engineered all the software in house, The Verge reported. Waymo has reportedly greatly reduced the cost of self-driving car technology. LIDAR (Light Imaging, Detection and Ranging) sensors that formerly cost $75,000 now cost around $7,500 or 10% of the earlier costs.
Waymo hopes to start deploying self-driving minivans in contained areas like college campuses, resorts, office parks and military bases as a test. If they work there it the vans will slowly be rolled out in other areas.
Potential uses include taxis, shuttle vans, delivery vehicles and rental vehicles. Whether this would be a direct competitor for Uber is unclear at this point. Although it looks as if Waymo plans to move into specialized niches; such as last mile solutions. Last miles are vehicles that haul people from airports, Hyperloop or train and bus stations to their final destinations.
It looks as if both Alphabet and Fiat-Chrysler are becoming major players in the autonomous car industry. They might also be well on their way to becoming a major presence in ride-sharing as well.
Car rental companies’ worst nightmare is coming true. They will soon be competing directly with a tech giant and a major automaker. One wonders if they and Uber will be able to survive in such an environment.