Waymo is joining forces with Magna to build a factory for self-driving cars in southeast Michigan. The first cars produced will be autonomous versions of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan and Jaguar’s I-PACE electric SUV. The project is supported by an $8 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced January 22.
Because the site selected will be an existing factory — possibly one of the facilities General Motors is planning to close soon — production is expected to begin before the end of this year. The specific factory that will be used has not yet been identified by the companies. A production rate of several thousand vehicles a year is anticipated, all of them capable of Level 4 autonomous driving. The factory is expected to employ up to 400 people.
Level 4 capability permits a vehicle to drive itself without a human driver on board in certain limited conditions. Typically, it involves operating within a specified geofenced area with extensive digital maps available to the self-driving computer built into each car.
In a January 22 blog post on Medium, the company said, “Waymo develops hardware and software in-house so that our self-driving technology works as a seamless, single system. A vital part of that process is integrating our self-driving system into the vehicles we purchase for our fleet, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rover.” It has said previously it expects to covert 10,000 Jaguars and more than 60,000 Pacifca Hybrids to autonomous operation.
“Waymo will first identify a facility in Southeast Michigan and, over the next few years, aim to create hundreds of local jobs in the community. We’ll be looking for engineers, operations experts, and fleet coordinators to join our team and help assemble and deploy our self-driving cars. This will be the world’s first factory 100%-dedicated to the mass production of L4 autonomous vehicles.
“As we begin to commercialize our business and vehicle supply grows, we’re laying the foundation for a scalable, robust vehicle integration plan, starting in Michigan. We’re partnering with Magna to help integrate Waymo’s self-driving system into our fleet of different vehicles, with a team hired exclusively for our work.”
Waymo has begun providing an autonomous shuttle service for selected riders in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Those cars still have a human minder riding along, but the company plans to gradually remove them from its cars throughout 2019. With autonomous systems which depend on neural networks, every mile of driving provides valuable feedback that permits the systems to learn from prior experience so they can perform at a higher level.
Magna is one of the world’s largest Tier 1 suppliers. It also builds cars for other automakers under contract. If all its production capacity were combined, it would be one of the largest automotive manufacturing companies in the world. It currently builds the Jaguar I-PACE at its factory in Graz, Austria.
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