Waymo Self-Driving Fleet Rolls Out In Force With Thousands Of Chrysler Hybrid Minivans

Chrysler Pacifica

Just two months ago, Waymo announced plans to test a self-driving car service in Phoenix, Arizona, in which commuters could summon a free ride from one of around 600 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans. Now the company is putting the pedal to the metal with "thousands more" of the same hybrid vehicle, each one motoring around without a flesh and blood (read: human) driver behind the wheel.

Fiat Chrysler in Canada is producing the self-driving vehicles for Waymo, which is planning to deploy the hybrids in cities where it is currently testing autonomous driving technology. When asked by Wired exactly how many thousands it is talking about, the company would not say, leaving it up to everyone's imaginations. It could be 2,000 hybrids, or it could be in the tens of thousands, for all we know.
Regardless of the specific number of vehicles, this represents a major investment for Waymo. The latest model 2018 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan starts at around $40,000. Even at 2,000 vehicles, the lowest number that technically qualifies as "thousands," that works out to $80,000,000. Waymo probably gets a discount over the sticker price, especially on a mass order. Still, a lot of money is changing hands here.

As a spin-off of parent company Alphabet, Waymo can afford a deal like this. This type of investment also keeps Waymo in front of the pack in the autonomous driving scene. The company has already racked up more than 4 million miles of testing on public roads, and more than tripling the size of its fleet will help the company generate more miles in a hurry. Not to be overlooked, all those miles of testing represent crucial data that gets hyper-analyzed.

It also means there is a greater chance you will encounter a self-driving vehicle out in public. Waymo currently tests its hybrids in more than two dozen cities in a handful of states, including San Francisco and every bridge in the Bay Area, the hills of the Santa Cruz mountains, and the dust storms of Arizona. The company also recently announced plans to expand its operations to Atlanta, Georgia.

"With this accelerated learning cycle, we’ve been able to teach our vehicles the advanced driving skills necessary for full autonomy. We’ve been able to unlock an entire geographic area for our fully self-driving cars, and soon members of the public will get to use Waymo’s driverless service to go to work, to school, to the grocery store and more," Waymo said a few months ago.

Waymo is not the only one making a major play in the self-driving vehicle category. GM, for example, is looking to deploy autonomous vehicles next year, while Uber is looking to do the same within the next year to a year and a half.