Waymo just announced that it has decided on a facility in Detroit to modify its fleet of Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover vehicles into self-driving cars.
MarketWatch reports that Waymo will create 400 jobs at the site, which is meaningful, but also not game-changing. This seems primarily like an expansion of Waymo’s existing facility in nearby Novi, Michigan. The goal is probably to do the same type of work on more vehicles, not to fundamentally expand the scope of operation.
By all appearances, Waymo purchases what are essentially off-the-shelf Chrysler Pacifica and Jaguar I-PACE vehicles, and bring them to this facility to convert them into autonomous vehicles.
I might imagine there are a lot of similarities between the work Waymo does in Michigan and the work AutonomouStuff has been doing in Peoria, Illinois, for years. To become a self-driving car, an off-the-shelf vehicle needs augmented power supplies, new computers, a lot more sensors, and a substantial amount of wiring.
That takes a lot of work, especially if Waymo plans to do that for tens of thousands of vehicles.
However, Waymo does not appear to be building out a manufacturing plant to build the vehicles themselves. Maybe things will head in that direction eventually, but I’d bet not.
There has been a lot of speculation that the automotive industry will start to look something like the airline industry. Ridesharing companies will purchase vehicles from manufacturers Chrysler, the same way airlines purchase airplanes from manufacturers like Boeing. Then the ridesharing company or airlines outfits the vehicles or airplane to their specification. The latest Waymo news feels like a step in that direction.