LONDON -- The development of driverless cars has so far been the domain of technology companies rather than car manufacturers, but as companies like Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. ramp up their projects in this area, companies like Google Inc. and Apple Inc. will find it more difficult to hire people with the right experience in this area.
This is why Google has appointed John Krafcik as CEO of its driverless car effort despite the project still being siloed within the company's experimental research lab. Krafcik comes from his role as president of online price comparison website TrueCar Inc but it is his previous experience as CEO of Hyundai Motors America for 5 years, plus 14 years spent in product development at Ford, which will be of most value to the search giant.
Google is at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle push, which is also said to include Apple and its secretive Project Titan efforts, as well as companies like Tesla and the traditional car manufacturers, most of whom have some form of driverless car project at various stages of development.
Google is currently testing its driverless cars on the roads of California and has been granted permission to do so in Texas. The project, which is still part of the Google X division, had been headed up by Chris Urmson, and he will stay on as its technical director, with Krafcik taking a newly created CEO position.
“This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars,” Krafcik said, in a statement. “This technology can save thousands of lives, give millions of people greater mobility and free us from a lot of the things we find frustrating about driving today. I can’t wait to get started.”
Ready For The Future
Google is not going to be making its own self-driving cars but is seeking to work with a range of companies to bring its expertise and technology “into the world safely” Google’s Courtney Hohne told Automotive News, adding that Krafcik’s appointment is “about getting ourselves ready for the future.”
The appointment of Krafcik is an indication that the company feels that the driverless car project could be ready to stand on its own, and become an independent entity within the new corporate structure the company created last month, called Alphabet.
It is not known when a Google-powered, driverless car might be commercially available, if ever, with Claire Hughes Johnson -- a former Google X executive who was in charge of developing a business model for driverless cars -- suggesting in a speech in 2014 that the cars may be made available as an on-demand service rather than as standalone products that consumers would buy.
Among traditional car manufacturers, Ford is one of the leading proponents of driverless car technology with the company already testing its own autonomous vehicle internally. The man heading up Ford’s push in this area is Ken Washington, a former rocket scientist who worked with NASA, and who believes driverless cars could be on our roads by the end of the decade -- a timeline also given by Google.
“This level of technology, we believe, will be available within the next five years with the right combination of weather and regulatory conditions. The weather conditions are important because it will ensure that the sensors on the vehicle can operate optimally” Washington told International Business Times UK in July.