Well, Waymo than before.
Alphabet’s self-driving car division Waymo announced today (May 31) that it has ordered 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler (FCA) as it looks to expand its autonomous-vehicle research into a commercialized ride-hailing service.
Waymo has been working with FCA since late 2016, when it was spun out as its own company under the Alphabet umbrella. Previously, it had been a research project within X, the company’s “moonshot factory,” where it used modified Lexus SUVs and its own adorable koala-shaped vehicles, which it’s been phasing out recently.
The massive investment comes just two months after Waymo ordered 20,000 fully electric SUVs from Jaguar, and it announced its plans to expand to a full ride-hailing service in 2019. It currently has a few hundred test vehicles in Arizona, Washington, Texas, California, Michigan, and Georgia. Scaling up from testing to a service of this size is a huge undertaking.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 305,000 taxi, limo, and ride-hail drivers in the US. If Waymo were to get all 82,000 vehicles it’s requested ready to go next year, it would have a robot fleet roughly a quarter of the size of the entire existing industry. (Waymo has not said when it expects these vehicles to be delivered.)
There are questions about the viability of operating self-driving technologies at scale. In March, an Uber autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian as the safety driver failed to react in time, and experts have questioned whether vanity metrics like the number of miles these companies have driven (through simulation or in the real world) are actually useful for training autonomous vehicles to act properly in edge-case scenarios.
Aside from these very real concerns, there are more basic logistical hurdles. How will a company that’s primarily been focused on research deal with servicing these 80,000 vehicles? Avis is working with Waymo to service the cars in its Phoenix, Arizona, tests, but Avis itself manages around 400,000 vehicles in its US rental locations—will it be able to cope with adding so many more?
Waymo wasn’t immediately available to comment on its rollout plans.