Google to seek auto partners more for self-driving cars

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Google Inc. Self-Driving Car Project CEO John Krafcik says the tech giant will look to increase its automotive partnerships as it moves to the next stages of its plans.

The former Hyundai Motor Co. and TrueCar Inc. executive did not provide a timeline for the partnerships or what automakers it would like to partner with, but said the company is “thinking about all sorts of things.”

“Automakers have the talent and the track record of producing cars at scale,” he said Tuesday during the Automotive News World Congress. “As our technology progresses, we hope to work with many of you guys … for are all sorts of partnerships we’re going to have to form in order to deliver this technology to users around the world.”

Nearly all major automakers have approached Google about its self-driving project, Krafcik said. It’s been reported Google and Ford Motor Co. would partner on building driverless vehicles, but the automaker and tech giant have not yet confirmed the reports.

When asked about Google on Monday, Ford President and CEO Mark Fields said the automaker is in talks with a number of companies and keeps all of those talks private.

Current traditional automotive partnerships with Michigan operations include Roush, Continental and others. Krafcik said Google would like to form more partnerships this year, saying the industry has a lot to do to bring self-driving cars to the world.

“We understand well. No one goes this alone. We are going to need a lot of help,” he said. “For this next stage of our development, we’ll have more partnerships.”

Google’s self-driving vehicles have driven about 1.3 million miles – about 10,000-15,000 miles a week, Krafcik said. The company is testing the vehicles in California and Texas.

Krafcik declined to discuss how many people Google has working on its self-driving vehicles, which he referred to as a “cute little koala car” when asked about its design.

“I think that was the designers’ goal with the design of the Google car was to say: ‘Look we are an accessible, safe thing. We don’t want to cause any harm. Give us an opportunity ... trust us.”

Self-driving and emerging automotive technologies were a centerpiece of press preview days of the 2016 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit.

Automakers such as Ford, General Motors Co. and others increasingly are becoming mobility companies, placing nearly as much emphasis on ride-sharing and autonomous features as horsepower and miles per gallon. It’s an odd collision of traditional, established manufacturers and new-to-the-scene tech disruptors, and executives say they’re still determining whether Silicon Valley represents a threat to their businesses.

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Staff Writer Michael Martinez contributed.