SWITCHING GEARS

Google hired a former Hyundai CEO to run its self-driving car program

There’s a new person in the driver’s seat of Google’s self-driving car project. On Sunday (Sept. 13) evening, Google announced it had hired John Krafcik, the former CEO of Hyundai US, and most recently president of car comparison websiteTrueCar, Reuters reported.

Krafcik is credited with turning Hyundai’s sales around during the Great Recession—when most car companies’ sales were flagging—according to The Wall Street Journal. Before the decade he spent at Hyundai, Krafcik held various positions, including chief engineer, in 14 years at Ford. The current director of the self-driving car program, Chris Urmson—the roboticist who told the world at this year’s TED conference how Google’s cars actually see what’s around them—will now become the technical lead on the project.

Google has previously said that it doesn’t want to build its own self-driving cars, rather it’d prefer to build out its technology for automotive partners. While the move to hire a seasoned auto veteran like Krafcik shows Google is interested in turning this project into an actual business, Krafcik has in the past been at odds with the auto industry. At a car show in 2009, Krafcik called on the industry to stop seeking aid from the US government, asking car companies to “stand on their own two feet,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Perhaps Google was after that disruptive spirit.

A Google spokesperson told Quartz that the self-driving car company was a “good candidate” for being spun out into its own Alphabet company in the future, although for now the project would remain within Google[x], the company’s “moonshot” research division. Google has been working on self-driving cars since 2009, and recently started testing its own cars on the roads of California and Texas. The program has made slow progress over the years, and competitors from within the auto industry have started to step up their own self-driving programs—but perhaps with Krafcik, it might be able find the next gear.

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