Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is joining a partnership that includes German automaker BMW and U.S. tech giant Intel to develop self-driving car technology.
The budding alliance offers the Italian-American automaker a clear route to putting self-driving vehicles on the road amid signs that global collaboration is increasingly key to the technology's future.
Until now, the company’s highest-profile involvement in self-driving vehicles has been to provide Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to former Google self-driving car project Waymo.
But facing the expensive demands of developing autonomous vehicle technology, the BMW-Intel alliance is appealing to Fiat Chrysler, which does not necessarily have the financial girth to justify developing its own self-driving cars from scratch.
“In order to advance autonomous driving technology, it is vital to form partnerships among automakers, technology providers and suppliers,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement. “Joining this cooperation will enable FCA to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective.”
BMW, Intel and self-driving car tech firm Mobileye formed the partnership in 2016, saying they'd welcome others to join to help accelerate and spread the technology. German supplier Bosch also recently signed on.
Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker Intel has since acquired Israel-based Mobileye, an autonomous vehicle technology firm, for $15.3 billion.
The alliance plans to deploy 40 autonomous test vehicles on the road by the end of 2017 and expects to use the data from a test fleet of 100 vehicles announced by Mobileye. The group's goal is to bring fully self-driving vehicles into production by 2021.
The partners said they are working to develop a vehicle architecture "that can be used by multiple automakers around the world, while at the same time maintaining each automaker’s unique brand identities."
Fiat Chrysler is expected to bring engineering and technical resources and its “significant sales volumes, geographic reach and long-time experience in North America” to the partnership, the partners said. In addition, engineers will be co-located in Germany and elsewhere.
A Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman said financial details are not being discussed, and that the vehicle platform being developed is not the Pacifica.
“The future of transportation relies on auto and tech industry leaders working together to develop a scalable architecture that automakers around the globe can adopt and customize,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement.
The deal is the latest sign of how partnerships will be key for the auto industry's future. Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda said in early August that they too would partner on self-driving cars.
In April, Fiat Chrysler announced that Waymo had ordered an additional 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids that it will modify for its self-driving fleet. That was in addition to 100 Pacifica Hybrids that Fiat Chrysler delivered last year to Waymo. In that partnership, Waymo adds the sensors that steer the Pacifica.
Contributing: USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey and Detroit Free Press reporter Brent Snavely
Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Eric D. Lawrence on Twitter @_ericdlawrence.
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