clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Google Says It Won't Make Self-Driving Cars Alone (But Won't Share Its Business Plan Yet)

"Saying you know what [the business model] is going to look like ahead of time is fraught with peril."


Google has become much chattier about its self-driving car project, once a secretive initiative buried inside its Google X research lab. But it’s still not chatty about its business model.

On Tuesday, Google (or rather, Alphabet) invited a wave of media to its Mountain View headquarters to ride in its homemade autonomous car and hear from its top staffers, as the company did in May before sending the cars on public roads. (It also livestreamed the event in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where Re/code was.) Google execs, including co-founder and Alphabet president Sergey Brin, shared the tech prowess and safety benefits of its cars, but deflected multiple questions about how the cars will be distributed.

One questioner asked if Google plans to build and sell vehicles themselves, a rumor and concern swirling furiously in the car industry.

“We’re really focused on working with partners,” Brin told journalists. “Even though we said we built this one ourselves, we’re enlisting many partners.” He stressed the existing relationship with auto parts suppliers and mentioned possible tie-ups with bigger manufacturers, although did not name any.

Another reporter asked if Google is considering releasing its self-driving tech as an open source tool. No, at least not now, answered Chris Urmson, project director. “The work we’re doing today is still proprietary,” he replied. “We have some ideas about getting it out.”

Neither he nor Brin specified what those ideas are. And Urmson dodged a question about what price people would pay for a self-driving car, from Google or others. Brin did note, though, that a theoretical service model, offering Google’s well-advanced tech to manufacturers, has “a real upshot.”

Brin also indicated that Google may be cool with drivers taking over the wheel in self-driving cars. That’s a reversal from earlier, when Google had promoted full autonomy — get in, press one button and do nothing else — opposed to a trade-off between manual and autonomous pushed by others, like Tesla.

John Krafcik, the former head of Hyundai U.S. tapped by Google as the self-driving car project’s CEO earlier this month, arrived for opening remarks but left thereafter. (It’s his second day at Google.)

But Urmson spoke enthusiastically about his expectations. “John has an incredible amount of experience in the auto industry,” Urmson noted. “As we’ve said, we don’t intend to make vehicles. We intend to partner. And he’s going to help with that. We certainly think about how the business model will work. But saying you know what that’s going to look like ahead of time is fraught with peril.”

Finally, Urmson was asked about other companies, tech rivals and old manufacturers, now swiftly chasing Google to make their own self-driving tech. “Seeing the automotive community up and running in this direction is fantastic,” he said.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.