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Phoenix area could get more of Waymo’s driverless minivans

(Waymo Photo)

PHOENIX — The Waymo driverless fleet will be growing, it was announced Thursday, with an agreement to add as many as 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans before the end of the year.

Some of those vehicles could wind up in metro Phoenix, where driverless testing has been on the road for months.

The technology will be utilized in a ride-hailing service in the area before the end of this year and then expand to other American markets, making it the first ride-hailing service with a collection of fully autonomous vehicles.

The company didn’t say how many more of the vehicles would be sent to the Valley.

The Waymo self-driving technology could also eventually be included with vehicles that would be made available to the public.

The Google spinoff company already has 600 of the self-driving vehicles testing on U.S. roads. In Arizona, the testing has been limited to Phoenix and a handful of cities in the East Valley — Chandler, Gilbert, Guadalupe, Mesa and Tempe.

Waymo driverless testing has been underway in the Valley since last fall. Shortly after that, passengers were able to sign up to ride in the vehicles in another phase of tests.

“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,” John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, said in a statement.

The self-driving vehicles have logged 6 million miles on public roads, 5 billion miles in simulations and run tests covering over 20,000 individual driving scenarios, the company said.

Earlier this month, a sedan crashed into one of the minivans on a Chandler street. Police said the sedan swerved to avoid hitting another car, but instead hit the minivan, which was being driven by an employee. The driver had slowed for a red light when it was struck.

Self-driving cars have raised concerns even before an Uber in autonomous mode hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe in March.

Days after that accident, Krafcik said his company’s technology would have avoided the fatal accident.

The new vehicles were expected to be delivered later this year. The deal with Fiat Chrysler was not exclusive, but the two sides committed to the partnership in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

KTAR News 92.3