More than five years ago, the newly formed Waymo took the wraps off what would have been its first autonomous vehicle: a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan loaded with sensors and software.
Now, the minivan, a symbol of the early and hypey AV days, is going to rest as Waymo. change his ships to the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace with its fifth-generation self-driving system.
When the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid AV was first revealed, it probably wasn’t what people expected from Google’s former self-driving project turned Alphabet business. The design wasn’t lifted from the pages of a graphic sci-fi novel and it wasn’t visually appealing. But the white minivan — highlighted by the same blue and green colors found on Waymo’s logo — has a purpose for the company. Waymo wanted a friendly looking car that people would feel comfortable using.
A partnership with established manufacturer Fiat Chrysler – now Stellantis – further undermined an already formidable technological pursuit. Under the agreement, Fiat Chrysler will work to develop and supply Waymo with a limited number of minivans designed for self-driving cars.
Waymo has yet to come close to the 62,000 minivan plan it agreed to in 2018 as part of a larger deal with Fiat Chrysler. But the minivan became an important part of its business and over its lifetime the fleet provided thousands of rides to the public, according to the company. (Waymo has not disclosed details about its small fleet beyond that its total global fleet is somewhere around 700 vehicles.)
“It’s sad to see it go,” Chris Ludwick, director of product management at Waymo who has been with the company since 2012, told TechCrunch. But I’m also excited about the next chapter.
Waymo unveiled the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in December 2016 then he gave some technical and business details a month later at the 2017 North American International Auto Show. The first look at the minivan in December came just five days after Google’s self-driving project announced it was a business with a new name and a slightly modified service.
At the time, little was known about what the Google self-driving project – also known as Chauffeur – wanted to do beyond the goal of self-driving cars. Google’s self-driving project has developed a super-fast self-driving car called the Firefly, but the sleek gumdrop-shaped vehicle hasn’t made it to the robotaxi market.
The low-slung car seemed to represent a fixed vision of the goal. As of 2017, the company has launched a pilot program that allows real people in the Phoenix area (who have tested and signed an NDA) to use the app’s lauded Chrysler Pacifica self-driving minivan with a public safety driver behind the wheel. .
Waymo eventually opened the service to the public — no NDA required — and expanded its operations to the Phoenix Chandler, Tempe, Ahwatukee and Mesa areas. Waymo repeated this process when they took the important step of removing the public safety operator from behind the wheel, launching ride without a driver in 2019 and finally the driverless robotaxi service in 2020 that was opened to the public.
The initial unveiling of the minivan represented the moment when “Chauffeur” became Waymo and less a science project, he said. But there was a great work to be done.
The Chrysler Pacifica was a real commercial success, according to Ludwick, who described how he went from driving 10 miles a day, then 100 miles, then 100 miles a day.
For example, the company found that families were more likely to use minivans than they thought. Minivan also helped develop the company’s AV playbook, including how to park between rides and where to find storage and control and charging.
The minivan has also become a way to test the use of driverless vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before COVID, Phoenix’s fleet was a mix of driverless cars and those with human protectors behind the wheel.
“Within three months we stopped driving and figured out how to combine cars between each trip,” he said.
Head of all electronics
Waymo’s next chapter focuses on its all-electric Jaguar I-Pace, which will be towed to Phoenix operations in Chandler and Tempe where the minivan covered. The Jaguar I-Pace is currently the self-driving robotaxi car in and around Phoenix Phoenix International Sky Harbor Airport. 24/7 service runs the five miles between downtown Phoenix and the airport, specifically, the 44th Street Sky Train station.
Thursday, a The White House gave a shout-out to Waymo (along with other companies) for committing to an all-electric fleet as part of the White House EV Acceleration Challenge.
Waymo plans to put the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace in all of its pickup trucks this spring as the minivan retires. Waymo’s approval was part of a broader announcement from the Biden administration around government and private sector investment in EVs as part of his goal of making 50% of all new vehicles electric by 2030.
Waymo’s next task may be more difficult: The company must figure out how to scale up the service, charge its all-electric fleet efficiently and make a profit.
But Ludwick believes the company is better off, among other things, in the Chrysler Pacifica.
“When I look at what the Pacifica took us, it’s a lot,” he said, noting that the car had to go too fast and make an unsafe left turn.