Google has poached the former CEO of Hyundai’s North American operations, John Krafcik, to lead its growing self-driving project – but the company says it has no plans to become a carmaker in its own right.
Krafcik left Hyundai in 2013 after five years as CEO, re-emerging early in 2014 as the president of the American car-shopping service TrueCar.
When Google announced this week that it had recruited the automotive veteran to lead development of its autonomous technologies program, industry experts speculated that the move was the first big sign of Google’s plans to introduce its own self-driving car to market in the near future.
Above: John Krafcik will use his automotive industry knowledge to push Google’s autonomous driving technology to the next level.
Today, however, the head of Google’s operations in central and eastern Europe, Philipp Justus, has confirmed that the tech giant has no plans to launch its own vehicles.
Speaking with industry journal Automotive News, Justus touched on the investment required for such an assault, even for a global giant like Google. “That is not something we could do alone,” he said.
While that comment could be interpreted as a hint that Google might still launch its own models by partnering with an existing auto company, Justus added the company “also does not intend to become a car manufacturer”.
It is more likely that Google will offer its autonomous driving technology to smaller auto brands and manufacturers that lack the capacity for developing their own systems, like Suzuki and Mazda, or upstart brands like the reborn Borgward that must focus their attention on brand-building rather than blue-sky futuristic technologies.
Likewise, manufacturers of commercial and industrial vehicles that lack the backing of a larger parent company – such as the Daimler-owned Freightliner and its experimental self-driving tech – could gain a crucial head-start by adopting Google systems rather than developing their own from scratch.
There’s clear precedent to such an approach: in the automotive industry, BMW and Mercedes-Benz both looked to technology developer and supplier Bosch when the carmakers introduced electronic stability control in the 1990s. And, in the mobile phone world, Google’s Android platform forms the basis for popular devices from established technology giants like Samsung, LG and Sony.
Autonomous driving technology, then, could be ‘just another’ case of a specialist development and supply program to customer-facing client companies.