Google has hired a veteran auto industry executive to run its self-driving car project, a sign the tech giant is serious about challenging car makers with its autonomous vehicles.
John Krafcik is the former head of Hyundai’s American operation, and was most recently the president of TrueCar, a car pricing service that works to make negotiations with dealers less stressful for consumers. He’ll join Google later this month as CEO of the self-driving car project, the company said Sunday night. Chris Urmson, the current head of the team, will stay on as the technical leader.
Google is aiming to have a car ready for consumers within five years, and it’s making progress fast. Its autonomous vehicles—25 Lexus SUVs and five prototypes with no steering wheel or pedals—are covering 10,000 miles a week on public roads in Mountain View and Austin.
It’s highly unlikely Google plans to start manufacturing its own vehicles, however. It’s more plausible Google will develop a self-driving system that can be used by other companies, and avoid the extremely high entry costs and low margins that come with making cars. That’s where Krafcik’s knowledge of and connections within the industry come in.
“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,” Google said in a statement. “This is about getting ourselves ready for the future, so we can bring this technology to its full potential.”
The self-driving car project is still part of “X lab,” Google’s stable of experimental efforts, though the company says “it’s certainly a good candidate” to become its own Alphabet company at some point.