Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo is expanding its partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV by adding tens of thousands of minivans to its fleet of self-driving cars and the two said autonomous vehicles could eventually be sold to the public.
The addition of 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans builds on a commitment announced in January to buy an unspecified number of the vehicles, which are kitted out with sensors that can see hundreds of yards in any direction. Waymo already had about 600 Pacificas in use in several cities, where they’re being tested with non-paying passengers.
The announcement moves Waymo another step out in front in the race to launch a fleet of autonomous automobiles for a public ride-hailing service, planned to debut in Phoenix later this year. A rival added financial heft: Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund agreed to invest $2.25 billion in General Motors Co.’s autonomous-vehicle unit.
Shares in all three companies rose after SoftBank’s backing highlighted the potential value of the nascent field. GM shares jumped as much as 12 percent, Fiat Chrysler climbed as high as 4.7 percent and Alphabet rose as much as 3 percent.
Fiat Chrysler and Waymo are also beginning discussions about using Waymo’s self-driving technology in Fiat Chrysler-manufactured vehicles that would be available to retail customers, according to a statement.