Google, Ford to Partner on Autonomous Cars

Ford Self Driving Car Ford CEO Mark Fields shows off its self driving car

Despite what many in the industry predicted, Google will not build its own autonomous cars (at least, not yet). Instead, it is forming a partnership with Ford to build self driving cars together, according to Yahoo! Autos. The announcement of the partnership will take place during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show that begins January 5. [UPDATE, January 1: The Yahoo! Autos report is unconfirmed. Other news sources are reporting this story as rumor. Actual confirmation of the partnership is pending an official announcement on January 5.]

The partnership gives both parties what they want most. Ford gets autonomous driving technology pioneered by Google over the past 7 years and Google gets to avoid the pain and expense of actually building and distributing a car. People tend to underestimate how hard manufacturing a car really is. Even the unflappable Elon Musk has found translating dreams into finished cars a daunting task.

Sources say that venture will be part of a new company that is legally separate from Ford Motor Company, no doubt to insulate the company from any potential liability. The courts have yet to hear any cases alleging negligent behavior by self driving cars, but you can bet such suits are coming. Volvo, Mercedes and Google have said publicly they would accept any liability for the autonomous cars. but Ford apparently feels more comfortable wearing both a belt and suspenders here at the beginning of the self driving age.

It is understood that the deal between Ford and Google isn’t exclusive. Think of it more like an “open marriage”, meaning that Google will be free to seek other business partners if it wants to- and, judging form the way Ford handled its hybrid truck technology partnership with Toyota– Google is probably smart to play the field!

Ford spokesman Alan Hall, for Ford’s part, said the automaker works with many companies on its Ford Smart Mobility plan, adding: “We keep these discussions private for obvious competitive reasons, and we do not comment on speculation.”


Ford + Google is Already a Thing

Casual industry observers may not know that there are already several links between Ford and Google. John Krafcik, who heads Google’s autonomous car program, worked at Ford for 14 years. Several other former Ford employees are working alongside him, and former Ford CEO Alan Mulally formally joined Google’s board last year.

Last week, Google announced that its autonomous car operation would become a separate entity under the Alphabet umbrella, according to Bloomberg News. It says it plans to offer a car service or “ride for hire” program to compete with Uber, which is busy developing its own self driving cars. The future of mobility, many people think, will be one in which no one actually owns a car but rather rents one on an on-call, as-needed basis. It’s possible the adorable little Google bubble car — or something like it — could still be built to provide vehicles for that market, as well.


Source: Bloomberg News.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.