A Waymo Chrysler Pacifica autonomous vehicle, with backup driver, roaming the streets of Tempe.EXPAND
A Waymo Chrysler Pacifica autonomous vehicle, with backup driver, roaming the streets of Tempe.
Ray Stern

Report of 62,000 Waymo Driverless Vehicles Coming to Phoenix in 2018 Is Fake News

The Associated Press headline on driverless car news on Wednesday was sensational and hard to believe: "62,000 fully autonomous Waymo taxis coming to Phoenix area."

Waymo, owned by Google parent Alphabet, hasn't even shown the public that it has a single fully driverless vehicle that handles a taxi job in the Phoenix area.

Asked about the AP story, which ran prominently on the Arizona Republic's website, azcentral.com, Waymo denied the report, telling Phoenix New Times to use only the details from its Wednesday news release, which doesn't say anything about 62,000 fully driverless vehicles soon coming to Phoenix. The company later confirmed that only some of the new Pacificas would arrive in Phoenix, but Waymo can't yet say how many.

In the release, Waymo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US announce that "up to 62,000 additional Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will join Waymo's driverless fleet" in late 2018.

It's certainly an interesting development, but not as dramatic as tens of thousands of fully driverless vehicles being turned loose on the streets of Phoenix in a few months.

Waymo will presumably add its driverless technology and deploy the new vehicles for the sort of taxi service that Waymo's CEO, chief executive, John Krafcik, mentioned in late March. Krafcik said that taxi service, involving vehicles with no backup drivers, would launch first in Phoenix. But the company has been testing its vehicles in multiple locations across the country.

Waymo has tested 600 Pacificas in the United States at this point, some of which — the company says —  require no backup drivers.

"Currently, Waymo is the only company with a fleet of fully self-driving cars, with no one in the driver seat, on public roads," Waymo said.

However, as New Times pointed out in a May 21 article, Waymo hasn't offered the news media rides in fully driverless vehicles, nor demonstrated the technology for the general public.

Waymo offered Governor Doug Ducey a ride in a fully driverless vehicle, but he hasn't accepted yet.

The public, meanwhile, has grown less confident of autonomous vehicles since the March 18 fatal collision between an Uber semi-autonomous car with a backup

FCA US and Waymo are also "beginning discussions about the use of Waymo self-driving technology, including potentially through licensing, in a FCA-manufactured vehicle available to retail customers."

"Waymo's goal from day one has been to build the world's most experienced driver and give people access to self-driving technology that will make our roads safer," Krafcik said in the release. "We're excited to deepen our relationship with FCA that will support the launch of our driverless service, and explore future products that support Waymo's mission."

Click here to see the news release.

UPDATE: Later on Wednesday afternoon, the Arizona Republic corrected its headline, stating, "A headline on an earlier version of this story misstated the number of Chrysler minivans being sent to the Phoenix area." The newspaper has not yet taken down a tweet with the bad info. Meanwhile, The Associated Press' Phoenix bureau referred New Times to a spokesman in New York City for comment. She never called back.

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