Waymo plans to open a self-driving car factory in Michigan

Waymo and Magna plan to build thousands of self-driving cars at a factory in southeast Michigan, including autonomous versions of the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan.

Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet, announced Tuesday that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation voted to approve the company’s plan to set up a manufacturing facility in the state to build its self-driving vehicles. The MEDC approved an $8 million grant for the project.

The announcement is the latest signal that the startup is preparing to scale up its commercial operations. In December, Waymo launched a limited commercial robotaxi service in the Phoenix area, dubbed Waymo One.

The Waymo One self-driving car service, and accompanying app, still has Waymo-trained test drivers behind the wheel. The safety driver will eventually be removed from the vehicle and the service will slowly open up to more people throughout 2019.

The companies are moving quickly. The goal is to begin moving into a facility by mid-2019 and begin preparing the site for manufacturing Level 4 autonomous vehicles. Level 4 is a designation by SAE that means the vehicle handles all of the driving under certain conditions.

The location has not been determined, except that it will be in southeast Michigan. This will likely be an existing facility, and not a new build. The factory will create up to 400 new jobs, according to Waymo.

Waymo has supplier partnerships with Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover. Last year, Waymo said up to 20,000 modified I-Pace vehicles will join Waymo’s driverless ride-hailing service in the first two years of operation. Waymo also has a deal with FCA for up to 62,000 modified minivans.

Waymo develops the hardware and software and then works with the automakers to integrate it into the vehicles at its Novi, Michigan facility. Through a partnership with Magna — the same company that is manufacturing the Jaguar I-PACE in Graz, Austria — the production and integration will now happen at a dedicated facility.