In Mr. Krafcik, 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.
This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous
potential of self-driving cars," Mr. Krafcik wrote in an email to
Automotive News. "This 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. I can't wait to get
Google, which launched its project in 2009, has signaled that it
intends to introduce self-driving cars by 2020. It's currently
testing experimental cars on public roads in its hometown of
Mountain View, Calif., and in Austin, Texas, logging 10,000 miles
per week in autonomous mode with trained drivers sitting behind the
It is "still early days" for the technology, Google spokeswoman
Courtney Hohne told Automotive News, though the hiring of Krafcik
as CEO of the self-driving cars project clearly suggests Google
feels good about its progress. "This is about getting ourselves
ready for the future," Ms. Hohne said.
Mr. Krafcik will start at Google in late September and be based
at the company's headquarters in Mountain View. Chris Urmson, the
former Carnegie Mellon University robotics researcher who is
currently director of the project, will continue to lead technical
It is relatively uncommon to name a CEO of a project within
another company, but Google's car project may eventually become its
own entity. Last month, Google announced a corporate reorganization
under which its namesake search engine, Google, will become a
subsidiary of a holding company called Alphabet Inc. Each
subsidiary will be denoted by a letter; Google, for instance, will
Ms. Hohne said the self-driving car program "would be a good
candidate at some point in the future to become an alphabet
company, but not yet."
By hiring Mr. Krafcik, who studied mechanical engineering at
Stanford University and business at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, Google gains more than deep connections within the
global auto industry. It also gains an executive with hands-on
experience in product development and manufacturing, which could be
particularly useful if Google decides to deploy self-driving cars
Early in his career, while working at MIT, Mr. Krafcik was part
of the research team that coined the term "lean production" with
its seminal study of Toyota's efficient manufacturing system, The
Machine That Changed the World.
Hohne said Mr. Krafcik's background shouldn't be interpreted as
a sign that Google intends to become a manufacturer. Last year,
when Google unveiled its first custom-built prototype, a two-seat
pod with a removable steering wheel and pedals, Google procured its
parts from traditional automotive suppliers such as Bosch and
Continental, and had the finished car assembled by Roush
Enterprises in suburban Detroit.
"We're not going to make cars ourselves," Ms. Hohne said. "We
know what we're good at, and we'll partner with many different
companies to bring this technology into the world safely."
Mr. Krafcik leaves his post as president of TrueCar at a time of
upheaval for the Santa Monica, Calif., company. When he was
recruited by TrueCar founder and CEO Scott Painter in early 2014,
the company seemed to have recovered from a near-collapse in 2012
brought on by clashes with regulators and a revolt among the
dealers who pay TrueCar for sales leads. Many of those conflicts
have since resurfaced in the form of lawsuits by dealers
challenging TrueCar's business practices.
Last month, as TrueCar reported disappointing second-quarter
earnings and its stock plunged, Mr. Painter announced that he would
resign as CEO. A search for his successor is still under way, but
it's unclear whether Mr. Krafcik was in the running for the
Gabe Nelson is a reporter for Auto News.