Google and Ford will create a joint venture to build self-driving vehicles with Google’s technology, a huge step by both companies toward a new business of automated ride sharing, Yahoo Autos has learned.
According to three sources familiar with the plans, the partnership is set to be announced by Ford at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. By pairing with Google, Ford gets a massive boost in self-driving software development; while the automaker has been experimenting with its own systems for years, it only revealed plans this month to begin testing on public streets in California. Google has 53 test vehicles on the road in California and Texas, with 1.3 million miles logged in autonomous driving.
By pairing with Ford, the search-engine giant avoids spending billions of dollars and several years that building its own automotive manufacturing expertise would require. Earlier this year, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the company was looking for manufacturing partners that would use the company’s self-driving system, which it believes could someday eliminate the roughly 33,000 annual deaths on U.S. roads.
Ford CEO Mark Fields showing off the company’s self-driving prototype last week in California.
While exact details of the partnership were unclear, it’s understood the venture would be legally separate from Ford, in part to shield the automaker from liability concerns. Questions of who will be responsible for any crashes involving self-driving cars have been seen as a major hurdle to putting them on the road; earlier this year, Volvo said it would accept responsibility for crashes in autonomous mode, a pledge followed by Google and Mercedes-Benz.
The deal is understood to be non-exclusive; Google has been talking to several other automakers for some time about using its self-driving systems. Most major automakers and several auto parts suppliers are developing their own self-driving controls as well, with a few—Nissan, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz among them—promising advanced vehicles for customer sales by 2020.
Google declined to comment. Ford spokesman Alan Hall 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.”
Last week, Bloomberg reported that Google’s parent firm Alphabet would move the self-driving car business under its own unit, with a goal of eventually launching a taxi or car-sharing services in urban areas that would compete with Uber and others. The company has tested its systems with modified Lexuses and custom-built, low-speed electric cars assembled by Roush Industries, a Ford supplier.
Google already has several links to Ford; the head of the self-driving car project, John Krafcik, worked for 14 years at Ford, including a stint as head of truck engineering, and several other ex-Ford employees work in the unit as well. Former Ford chief executive Alan Mulally joined Google’s board last year.
And Ford executives have been clear for years that the company was ready to embrace a future where cars were sold as on-demand services. Ford CEO Mark Fields has repeatedly said Ford was thinking of itself “as a mobility company,” and what that would mean for its business.