Let’s be clear about something right off the bat: all of this information is coming from Fiat Chrysler’s Capital Markets Day investor’s meeting, and as such we should all enjoy a nice, large, juicy grain of salt with all of these predictions, dates, numbers, whatever. That said, FCA has revealed its autonomy plan, and it includes having Level 4 autonomous cars for sale by 2023. We’ll see about that.
Jus in case you think I’m being unfair by suggesting a healthy salt garnish with all this, have a quick look at FCA’s “Safe Harbor Statement,” which is basically its colossal hedge that it’s possible none of this shit may ever happen:
FCA’s autonomy plans include Level 2+ (think something a bit beyond Tesla’s Autopilot) and Level 3 to the market by 2019-2021, and Level 4—that is, nearly fully autonomous—by 2023. The company feels confident enough about this to committing to something as expensive and precious as a tweet:
FCA’s presentation includes this slide showing its progress and timeline through the various autonomy levels:
I’m assuming the “cost” section of the chart is keyed to the hardware/development cost of the current Level 2 cars. Level 2+ (the “+” seems to refer to automated lane changing) is five times the cost, getting to Level 3 is 30 times the cost, and so on. It’s not clear how those numbers are being exrapolated.
If we try to apply some actual dollars to that variable x, we can take about $5000 as a base to get to Level 2, since that’s a ballpark of what such systems cost when added to currently available cars. That puts Level 2+ at a $25,000 premium, and Level 3 at an insane $150,000. Can that be right? Maybe.
FCA clarified its general approach to AV development in an interesting DO/DON’T slide:
Based on this, it sounds like FCA is planning on a fairly conservative, lower-risk approach, without committing to one particular plan or platform. This doesn’t appear to be the path of an innovator, which is probably fine for FCA. Or any organization that uses the word “Optionality.”
In keeping with FCA’s play-it-safe approach to autonomy, it is hedging its bets regarding partners, and partnering with three companies, each of which is in a different market segment:
The Waymo partnership gets them access to mainstream, shared-use future autonomous vehicles, while the BMW partnership is more suited to possible privately-owned cars with AV technology.
Waymo also offers FCA a good way to move some cars, since Waymo announced it will be buying 62,000 new Pacificas to develop its autonomous fleet.
In many ways, I think this partnership is all thanks to the Pacifica more than anything else. Without realizing it when it was being developed, FCA produced an excellent platform vehicle for autonomous use, as vans that maximize interior space make the most sense for cars that you don’t need to drive. I don’t think FCA would have this partnership if it had not just recently developed a new minivan platform.
This slide also suggests a possible consumer-targeted AV, likely based on the Pacifica as well.
The BMW partnership will be focused on developing Level 3 autonomy for highway driving applications, and will likely find its way into premium FCA offerings on cars from Maserati and maybe Alfa Romeo. The Aptiv partnership is focused on getting Level 2+ hardware into a broader range of FCA cars.
FCA’s autonomy goals feel pretty reasonable, generally, and it looks like it’s going to be relying on outside organizations for the heavy R&D lifting. That’s probably good, because this slide in the presentation...
...doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.