​Google to steer clear of car-making, but Mercedes eyes driverless limos

Google maintains that it has no plans to become a car manufacturer and is just interested in partnerships.

Google has no intention of becoming a vehicle manufacturer, despite hiring a top exec from the US auto industry to head up its driverless car project.

John Krafcik, the former CEO of Hyundai Motors America, confirmed on Monday that he will be joining Google in late September to lead its self-driving car project, raising more questions about whether Google will eventually begin producing its own vehicles.

However, Reuters reported from the Frankfurt auto show yesterday that Phillip Justus, Google's managing director of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, said the company is only exploring partnerships with the auto industry and did not have plans to enter their territory itself.

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"That is not something we could do alone," Justus said. "Google also does not intend to become a car manufacturer." Google's partners include automotive suppliers Bosch and German transmission manufacturer ZF Friedrichshafen, he told Reuters.

Chris Urmson, project lead for the Google's driverless cars and head of Google Auto, earlier this year told USA Today that "making cars is really hard, and the car companies are quite good at it. So, in my mind, the solution is to find a partnership". The exec said Google was in talks with General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Daimler and Volkswagen over driverless cars, though the company has not yet announced any formal partnership.

In 2011, Google formed Google Auto, the entity behind its fleet of self-driving Prius and Lexus vehicles, The Guardian reported recently. It's since said it will make 100 self-driving cars, to be assembled by its manufacturing partner, Roush.

The paper reported that, at a recent California Public Utilities Commission meeting, Google revealed plans to ramp up production of its self-driving cars in the state. Speaking at the event, Sarah Hunter, head of policy at GoogleX, said the company was yet to figure out how it would bring it to market, but options could include "manufacturing at scale for sale to individuals" or setting up service where it would own and operate the cars itself, putting Google on a crash course with the likes of Uber.

Conventional car makers are also eyeing the potential for autonomous vehicles-as-a-service, one of the chief reasons German car makers gave for acquiring Nokia's Here mapping business in August.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said Mercedes-Benz saw business potential in on-demand limousine services using driverless cars, Reuters reported yesterday.

Zetsche told Reuters that it was a "concrete development of ours" and would fit neatly with Daimler's existing car2go car-sharing service, only it would be more convenient for the pickup and drop off to happen automatically.

Having a large fleet of autonomous vehicles would allow the company to appeal to customers that don't want to own a vehicle but still want luxury transportation.

However, it would be a longer term development since autonomous vehicles aren't expected to be available as a mass market product until at least 2025, due to unresolved questions about liability in the event of accidents.

On the other hand, GoogleX's Hunter appeared to be more confident about making its cars more widely available in California, saying the timescale could be "whenever California passes its operational regulations. We're just waiting for that."

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