Google's Waymo accelerates self-driving car push with AutoNation partnership

AutoNation will provide maintenance and repairs for Waymo's self-driving fleet of Chrysler Pacifica vehicles.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor
Image: Waymo

AutoNation, the largest auto dealership chain in the United States, has partnered with Google's Waymo as part of the former's push to produce self-driving cars for wider use.

Waymo was spun out of the search engine giant almost one year ago, after nearly eight years as part of the Google X research unit.

As part of the arrangement, AutoNation's dealerships will provide maintenance and repairs for Waymo's self-driving fleet of Chrysler Pacifica vehicles, and will include additional models of vehicles when Waymo brings them on line, AutoNation said on Thursday.

AutoNation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, runs about 360 dealerships across the US.

While the terms of the multi-year deal with AutoNation were not disclosed, it is not the first partnership deal Google has inked as it accelerates self-driving car push.

In May 2016, Waymo opened a 53,000 square-foot facility in Novi, Michigan for engineers to fit out the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans with Waymo sensors. Production of the self-driving minivans began the following October, where they were tested at Fiat Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan.

Waymo then turned to car rental giant Avis Budget Group in June for support of its growing autonomous vehicle fleet, announcing a multi-year agreement in which Avis will store and service Waymo's 600-vehicle fleet of Chrysler self-driving vans at select rental facilities.

Google's parent company Alphabet led the $1 billion investment round for ridesharing firm Lyft last month, reinforcing Alphabet's existing relationship with Lyft.

Waymo has already partnered with Lyft to test self-driving cars, but at the same time, Lyft is working with General Motors (GM), which invested $500 million in the company last year.

GM plans to test its own self-driving car fleet after purchasing Waymo competitor Cruise Automation.

Since Google first began pursuing self-driving vehicle technology in 2009, a wave of major players have joined the chase.

In addition to GM, Ford Motor Company has announced a series of innovation initiatives that will significantly expand the company's electric and autonomous vehicle offerings; other big technology companies, including Apple and ride-hailing service Uber, are developing their own technology.

Waymo is currently in a legal tussle with Uber, with the former alleging that one of its ex-managers stole the company's trade secrets and took them along when he joined Uber in 2016.

The engineer stepped aside from his role as the head of the self-driving car project in April. The trial is set to begin later this year.

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