Ex-Hyundai CEO John Krafcik Takes The Driverless Reins At Google

John Krafcik, the Ford Motor veteran who was CEO of Hyundai Motor America from 2008 to 2013 — transforming it from an also-ran into a major brand before a sudden departure — has been named CEO of Google’s self-driving car project. Chris Urmson, the robotic engineering expert who has been running the initiative, will remain its technical director.

Krafcik’s hiring signals that Google “is starting to look at the project as a potential and relevant business in the near future,” Reuters’ Sangameswaran S reports. It puts it “one step closer to graduating from an expensive engineering experiment to a real commercial undertaking that could drastically change how people commute,” writes Conor Dougherty for the New York Times.



It will still be a part of the Google X lab, however, Mark Bergen reports for Re/code. “The project is not becoming an Alphabet company at this stage,” a Google spokesperson tells him, referring to the new corporate umbrella, “though it’s certainly a good candidate to become one at some point in the future.”

Krafcik, who had been president of the comparative pricing site TrueCar since May 2014 until he resigned last week, will begin working at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company later this month, Marco della Cava reports for USA Today

Krafcik, 53, is “a manufacturing expert and a fan of disruptive technology,” writes Gabe Nelson for Automotive News, who calls him a “visionary” in a separate profile. “Google gains a well-known and widely respected executive with ties across the global auto industry, which could help the tech company solidify relationships with suppliers and other partners as it seeks to scale up its effort.”

Beyond his industry connections, Nelson writes, Krafcik has “hands-on experience in product development and manufacturing, which could be particularly useful if Google decides to deploy self-driving cars at scale.”

Indeed, “this is about getting ourselves ready for the future,” Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne tells Nelson.

“Google’s self-driving cars have logged more than one million miles on public roads. The search giant recently started testing a bubble-shaped prototype on the streets of its hometown of Mountain View, Calif. Another version of the car, a modified Lexus sports utility vehicle, started self-driving around Austin, Texas,” the NYT’s Dougherty reports.

In a tweet posted Sunday evening, Krafcik writes: “Self-driving cars could save 1000s of lives, give people greater mobility & free us from things we find frustrating about driving today,” reports Venture Beat’s Michael De Waal-Montgomery. And Krafcik’s background picture already sports an image of the bug-like Google prototype, as a follower pointed out.

“Google doesn’t plan to manufacture its own cars and wants to partner with others to develop the technology,” a Google spokeswoman reiterated to the Wall Street Journal’s Alistair Barr and Mike Ramsey yesterday.

“But carmakers are reluctant to be relegated to the role of contract manufacturer for the Silicon Valley company, which would produce the bulk of the value of the car — the operating system — while potentially taking advantage of media services piped into the vehicle,” Murad Ahmed and Andy Sharman observe in Financial Times.

“Google has been trying to transform itself from an Internet search engine into a broader enterprise that applies its computing muscle and know-how to big industries such as transportation and health care,” Barr and Ramsey point out. “The self-driving car project, which started in 2009, was the first public example of the effort and its slow progress is emblematic of Google’s challenges.”

Krafcik is “not just some automotive management flak. He’s really known for his product development prowess — a strength that  Google is likely attracted to,” writes Kirsten Korosec for Fortune.

“Krafcik has a mechanical engineering degree from Stanford University and was one of the first engineers for New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, the former joint-venture plant in Fremont, Calif., operated by Toyota and General Motors. The NUMMI plant, which closed in 2010, is now owned and occupied by Tesla Motors,” Korosec continues.

“I'm passionate about transformative ideas that make products and consumer experiences with them better, especially at the intersection of auto and tech,” Krafcik writes on his LinkedIn profile. “I lead teams with big ideas & focused business plans, using lean management principles and data-driven operating processes to drive superb execution.”

Just the kind of key words a Google resume bot would jumped on.

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