The question of whether Google will build its upcoming driverless vehicles directly or partner with an existing carmaker appears to have been answered, with reports this week that the company has struck a deal with Ford.
Google has been remarkably open about its ongoing development of self-driving vehicle technology, with the company's logo appearing on prototype vehicles since 2012.
The tech giant has been less forthcoming about its production plans, however, leading media to speculate on whether the world’s second most valuable company (behind Apple) would expand its investment beyond driverless technology development and into manufacturing.
Now, a new report with Yahoo Autos claims that three separate unnamed sources have confirmed a manufacturing partnership between Google and Ford, with an announcement to be made at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show.
The shape of the deal is still to be revealed, although it is clear that both companies stand to benefit from a tie-up. Ford is already invested in driverless technology of its own, but access to Google’s research and its 2 million kilometres worth of test data would undoubtedly be of benefit.
Likewise, access to Ford’s manufacturing expertise and union relationships would represent a huge jumpstart for Google if it is planning to launch its own branded autonomous vehicles.
The deal is reportedly non-exclusive, meaning that both companies can explore opportunities with other groups. For Google, this would also mean making its technology available to smaller carmakers and industries unable to dive into developing their own driverless systems.
The report adds that Ford is expected to launch a separate business for its part of the venture, and Google’s recently launched parent company Alphabet is likewise believed to be preparing to move driverless vehicle development into a new business.
If true, this latest report marks an interesting step for two already related companies, with Google recently hiring ex-Ford (and Hyundai) executive John Krafcik to its automotive division, while former Ford CEO Alan Mulally joined the tech giant’s board of directors in 2014.
Watch for more on this story to come at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show.