Google’s self-driving minivan will start test drives this month in California and Arizona

John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, introduces a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid at the Detroit auto show.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Waymo, Google’s self-driving car division, will start testing its new fleet of minivans on public roads in California and Arizona this month.

The minivans, built in collaboration with Fiat Chrysler, are Chrysler Pacifica hybrids outfitted with Waymo’s own suite of sensors and radar. Waymo and FCA announced their partnership in May.

In a speech at the Detroit auto show Sunday, Chief Executive John Krafcik said that Waymo built the sensors, radar and software itself. He said the company thought the system would work better if it was developed specifically for the self-driving vehicles instead of using off-the-shelf parts.


“A single integrated system means that all the different parts of a self-driving car work together seamlessly,” Krafcik said.

Waymo also was able to significantly lower the cost of the system, he said.

The rooftop lidar — which uses lasers to give the car a three-dimensional picture of the world — cost $75,000 a few years ago. Waymo has brought that cost down by 90% even as it developed its own lidar that can see a football helmet two football fields away, Krafcik said.

Though no details were released about how Waymo brought costs down, the announcement could concern suppliers such as Velodyne, which makes lidar systems used by Ford Motor Co. and others, and Delphi Corp., which is developing its own autonomous driving system.

Stephanie Brinley, an auto analyst for IHS Markit, said Google won’t control the market for self-driving technology, so other suppliers will go ahead with development of their own systems. But she thinks some smaller players in the nascent industry are “going to fall away.”

Waymo has repeatedly said that it doesn’t plan to build its own cars, but provide self-driving systems to established carmakers, car-sharing services and others. In addition to FCA, Honda Motor Co. recently announced that it’s in talks with Waymo about using its technology in Honda vehicles.

Krafcik said Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet that has been developing self-driving cars for eight years, expects to reach 3 million miles of test-driving this May.



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5:45 p.m. This article was updated with more details on Waymo’s technology and a comment from an auto industry analyst.


This article was originally published at 3:25 p.m.