At the Frankfurt car show, Philipp Justus, Google’s managing director for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, is putting an end to the speculations. Google has no intention of becoming a car manufacturer, according to him. That almost seems like the opposite signal that the company has been sending lately, particularly with the recent hire of former Hyundai Motors America CEO John Krafcik. However, while Justus might be unambiguously closing one door, he still leaves some of the other doors of future business possibilities open to interpretation.
Google has both been making and not making cars ever since it went public with its autonomous car dreams. While it has indeed designed some prototypes of its own, it also has a fleet of Lexus SUV in testing. Justus says that Google is working in partnership with the automobile industry, not in competition. Google doesn’t really have the capability to mass produce cars anyway, so it instead offloads some of the components and work to other players in the industry.
Of course, that doesn’t close the door on a Google-driven car business. It only means that, at least for now, Google has no plans on making the cars themselves. It could, however, still sell and support them. It would be akin to what Google has been doing with the Nexus mobile devices and, lately, with Project Fi, providing the technology, software, and retail while letting industry players, like smartphone OEMs or network carriers, supply the hardware and infrastructure. Krafcik’s experience with TrueCar, an online car shopping service, would be fully utilized in this scenario.
That said, Google might be running out of time or potential partners. By now, many of the major car makers are already working on their own self-driving technology and are unlikely to throw away millions of dollars in R&D in exchange for unfamiliar technology, even if such came from Google. In this area, car manufacturers might indeed see Google more as a rival than as a potential friend.