It’s not surprising to hear reports that Alphabet’s Google, which wants automaker partners for its self-driving technology, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which wants partners to defray the cost of developing technology, are closing in on a partnership deal.
While neither company is commenting officially, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne seemed to hint at it earlier this week on an earnings call with investors when he said he was open to partnerships with non-automotive companies and could not afford to be selective or exclusive in the arrangements he makes with other companies.
Maybe he was talking about Google when he said, “Dialogue continues with people who are interested in exploring their relevance in the automotive world and we will continue to help them try and find a way out.” Time will tell, he said of determining “whether some of these arrangements are commercially relevant to FCA. But hopefully we’ll have something to say within 2016 on that matter publicly. I can’t say anything up to now. I mean, it’s just whatever is going on is confidential in nature.”
Even before the Google self-driving car project became a division of Alphabet and brought in auto veteran John Krafcik, executives were open about the fact they wanted automakers as partners to supply vehicles while Google would provide the latest in self-driving vehicle technology. The Google cars that have been on the road for years of testing have all been vehicles built by others that replaced the driver with Google tech. Pod-like Google cars now on the road are made in Livonia, Mich. by Roush.
Marchionne has said the auto industry needs to further amalgamate to bring down the cost of technology especially in the areas of autonomous driving and connectivity between vehicles, their surroundings, and the devices of their drivers. And FCA is seen as lagging behind in some of these areas.
Earlier this year at the Geneva auto show, Marchionne showed he favors the Google model of leaving the manufacturing of vehicles to those already doing it. Asked about the prospect of Apple building a self-driving car, he said, “The advice that I’ve given them is if they do have any urges to build a car is to lay down and wait until the feeling passes.”
But Marchionne is open to supplying vehicles for Google to test software and hardware alike. The early test subject could be the new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, one of the newest vehicles in the FCA showroom and the vehicle chosen to launch the automaker’s hybrid and plug-in hybrid capabilities.