Google names John Krafcik its self-driving car project CEO. Krafcik is an auto industry veteran and former head of Hyundai Motors America. After helping lead Hyundai through a sales boom and design renaissance, Krafcik served a short stint as president of the car-shopping service TrueCar. Krafcik also held various product development executive positions was at Ford from 1990 to 2004.
Krafcik took the helm of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project late in September 2015.
Krafcik will oversee all aspects of the self-driving car project. That makes him the first CEO for the high-profile venture that’s part of Google X, a division of Alphabet, formerly known as Google. Prior to appointing Krafcik as CEO the project reported to Sundar Pichai and Google, but now could be spun out as a company under Alphabet.
Chris Urmson, the former project chief for the self-driving car project, will now lead the technical development side of Google’s vehicle development.
Krafcik, who studied mechanical engineering at Stanford University and business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gives Google direct experience in product development and manufacturing as well as strong worldwide connections to the auto industry.
Google Selected John Krafcik For His Industry Experience
In a statement, Google said, “We’re adding an outstanding business leader in John Krafcik. John’s combination of technical expertise and auto industry experience will be particularly valuable as we collaborate with many different partners to achieve our goal of transforming mobility for millions of people.”
Krafcik will wrestle with many issues as he takes command of the self-driving car project. Among them are whether or not to mass manufacture the cars, how much driver intervention will be allowed, how to bring the cars to market and the timetable for doing so.
Publicly, Google touts the enormous potential of self-driving cars, claiming the 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. Implicit in this are the safety benefits that come along with not having humans “behind the wheel.”
John Krafcik Faces Challenges With Self-Driving Cars
To achieve these goals, Google is pondering a potential move towards the mass manufacture of the self-driving cars currently undergoing testing in California and Texas.
At the California Public Utilities Commission, Sarah Hunter, said the company will be making a “few hundred” of the self-driving vehicles in order to “actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up.”
Don’t interpret this as a sign that Google intends to become a manufacturer of self-driving cars, however, according to the company. “We’re not going to make cars ourselves,” Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne said. While Google is interested in the mass-market potential of self-driving cars, the tech giant does not want to manufacture the cars itself, according to the spokeswoman. Instead, the tech giant hopes to partner with other companies willing to shoulder this part of the process.
Earlier this year Google announced that it was working with several traditional automotive suppliers, including Continental and Bosch, to build two-seat pod-like self-driving cars with a removable steering wheel and pedals.
There’s still a long way to go to make Google cars fully functional. Currently, the self-driving cars are limited to 25 mph. Cars include sensors and 3D mapping technology which create a virtual map of the car’s environment and obstacles. Despite the advanced technology, the cars have a new set of buttons —”go,” “please slow down and stop,” and “stop pretty quickly” —useful for drivers who wish to retain some control over the cars and can act as a human set of eyes alongside sensors in detecting obstacles.
Google hasn’t decided yet how it is going to bring this to market. Right now, Google engineers are trying to figure out how to make a car genuinely drive itself. Once they figure that out, they’ll figure out how to bring it to market and in which way. Is it something that Google manufactures at scale for sale to individuals? Or is it something that Google owns and operates as a service? Furthermore, the first Google cars may not be all electric in the same way current prototypes are. Instead, it is possible the cars will be hybrids.