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The new Chrysler Pacifica minivan will joint Google's test program (Photo: FCA)

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) and Google will jointly test self-driving vehicles, allowing the US-Italian carmaker to catch up in an area where it has been seen to be lagging competitors.

FCA said Google's self-driving test program will later  this year be expanded to include its new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. FCA engineers will work closely with Google to integrate the internet company's self-driving technology.

"Working with Google provides an opportunity for FCA to partner with one of the world's leading technology companies to accelerate the pace of innovation in the automotive industry," FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a press statement.

While most other carmakers have shown self-driving prototypes and have made predictions about the imminent arrival of such cars on the roads, FCA has been relatively quiet on this front.

With both companies planning to co-locate engineering teams in southeastern Michigan, the tie-up with Google will now provide FCA with an opportunity to kickstart an autonomous-vehicle program. But Colin Bird, senior analyst with research firm IHS Automotive, noted that "significant effort remains to introduce this technology into FCA production vehicles."

Still, Bird said in a written comment, "teaming up with Google helps put FCA in a stronger position to compete when it comes to autonomous car research and development."

For Google, the agreement with FCA gives it direct access to car-manufacturing expertise. Said Bird: "Google’s more intimate relationship with a large scale OEM will provide significant integration and manufacturing experience." The agreement, he added, "may portend an ongoing, developing relationship which may lead to deploying Google’s driverless software in production FCA vehicles."

Most automakers say cars can technically already drive themselves, but they acknowledge that work still needs to be done to allow them to handle particularly complex traffic situations. Regulatory changes also are required before driverless vehicles will be allowed on all roads. Most industry executives don't expect the cars in showrooms before the end of the next decade.