Waymo orders thousands of Pacificas for 2018 self-driving fleet rollout

Waymo has ordered thousands of new Chrysler Pacifica minivans from FCA to help populate its autonomous ride-hailing fleet, which it will open to the public in 2018, the company says. The public launch of its Pacifica-based self-driving ride hailing service is set to occur sometime later this year, after Waymo starts testing its minivans without anyone behind the wheel, achieving true Level 4 autonomy for their designated bounded test area in Arizona.

The total size of the vehicle commitment isn’t exactly known as of yet, but FCA has already supplied Waymo with 500 vehicles in total at least, and now that number will cross into the “thousands” as Waymo prepares for its public launch, and for the expansion of said service beyond its initial target launch market of Phoenix, where Waymo has been conducing its first pilot trial involving members of the public as passengers and customers.

The delivery of the new vehicles will begin late in the year, and the new additions to the autonomous fleet will be rolled out “across multiple U.S. cities,” according to Waymo.

Waymo worked directly with FCA engineers to build its autonomous driving tech into the Pacifica, a minivan with plenty of cabin comforts for rear seat passengers already built in. The van platform from Chrysler is also “ideal” for accommodating Waymo’s autonomy tech in terms of its electrical, powertrain, and structural systems, as well as its chassis design, according to the self-driving tech provider.

The plan for deployment for Waymo’s self-driving services is to focus on ensuring absolute safety and reliability in strictly defined areas, and the expand the boundaries of said service over time. Waymo isn’t the only one hoping to launch autonomous driving services in some capacity soon, however; GM’s Cruise is looking to deploy “at scale” in 2019, and Uber says it’ll have limited commercial availability of its service in around 18 months.