Google, Fiat Near Deal on Self-Driving Car (Report)

Courtesy of Google

The alliance with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would give Google's autonomous driving technology a manufacturing partner with a global footprint.

Google is in talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to partner on a self-driving car and is close to a deal, the Wall Street Journal confirmed.

The news was first reported Thursday by the automotive industry website Autoextremist.com, citing unnamed sources.

According to the reports, Fiat-Chrysler's CEO Sergio Marchionne and John Krafcik, CEO of Google's autonomous car project, have been in talks since January and are expected to develop a self-driving version of FCA's Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which was recently overhauled.

The pact would give Google's long-gestating self-driving technology a mass-manufacturing partner with more than 100 years of experience building cars, along with a global footprint.

Google has long maintained that it needs to partner with an established automaker to build a car around its self-driving tech. A partnership with FCA would allow it to bring its self-driving technology to the marketplace without investing the billions of dollars required to manufacture the car. FCA would benefit by acquiring proven autonomous technology — Google has logged more than 1 million miles test driving its fleet of egg-shaped autonomous prototypes in California and Texas — that it could retrofit into existing cars like the Pacifca or use to build new self-driving vehicles.

If confirmed, the partnership would mark the first in what is expected to be a growing number of legacy automakers joining forces with Silicon Valley tech companies to build semi- and fully-autonomous cars.

Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo and other automakers are in various stages of developing self-driving cars, which are expected to transform the industry and society as they become increasingly commonplace over the next decade. (There was intense speculation prior to January's CES show that Ford would announce a deal with Google to build a self-driving car, but Ford CEO Mark Fields announced instead it would partner with several companies on its autonomous program.)

Meanwhile, Apple's secret Project Titan program is said to be developing an Apple-branded electric car that, if actually manufactured, would be partially or fully self-driving. And Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has predicted that Tesla, which mounted an aggressive hiring campaign last year to beef up its autonomous program and has added semi-autonomous features to its Model S and Model X models, will field a fully autonomous car in the next two years. 

There is speculation that Tesla's Model 3, which has already logged more than 400,000 pre-orders, will be capable of fully autonomous operation when it is introduced in late 2017.

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