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In First Public Comments, Self-Driving Car CEO Urges Automakers to Buy Into Google's Driverless Vision

Is it Google's way or the highway?

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

A ton of car industry eyes were watching John Krafcik closely today as he delivered his first public comments as the chief executive of Google’s self-driving car division.

But they didn’t see any big surprises. Krafcik did not unfurl any deals with carmakers. Instead, he doubled down on Google’s unique commitment to total autonomy, a critical signal to the industry — and its regulators — that this approach is the safest route as self-driving vehicles prepare to become a massive business.

“The industry has been making continuous incremental gains, but for self-driving cars to reach their full potential we need to focus on nothing short of full autonomy,” Krafcik said on Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The former Hyundai U.S. CEO — he was hired by Google in September — started his talk with personal anecdotes about his path to the Internet giant and his affection for cars (he has three in his garage).

But most of his talk focused on how self-driving cars will drastically curb deaths on the roads. Over the past year, Google’s car unit, which remains part of its Google X lab but is expected to be a standalone company, has reiterated that fully driverless cars — moving from A to B with only the press of a button — are far safer than other options. It is even pointed out that partial autonomy, particularly the moment when drivers take over, can be incredibly dangerous.

At the moment, however, Google is alone in this camp. All the carmakers working on autonomy, including Tesla, have endorsed an incremental approach — building in self-driving features so consumers can adapt to them. Many disagree with Google that this is fundamentally less safe.

Several people in the industry say that Google’s business interest is in operating fully driverless taxi fleets. If Google can convince the automotive industry — and, perhaps more critically, automotive regulators — that this is a safer approach, then that better positions its business interest.

“Aiming for full autonomy not only reaches the most people, our team believes it’s also the safest approach,” Krafcik told the assembled car folks. “Having this audacious goal was what drew me to the Google self-driving car project.”

In his concluding remarks, he noted that Google continues to partner with the automotive industry, but declined to name any specific partners.

This article originally appeared on

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