DETROIT (Reuters) – Internet search company Google Inc has begun discussions with most of the world’s top automakers and has assembled a team of traditional and nontraditional suppliers to speed efforts to bring self-driving cars to market by 2020, a Google executive said on Wednesday.
“We’d be remiss not to talk to the biggest auto manufacturers. They’ve got a lot to offer,” Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, said in an interview.
Those manufacturers, he said, include General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG.
“For us to jump in and say that we can do this better, that’s arrogant,” Urmson said. Google has not determined whether it will build its own self-driving vehicles or function more as a provider of systems and software to established vehicle manufacturers.
Google’s self-driving prototype cars, he said, were built in Detroit by engineering and specialty manufacturing company Roush.
GM is open to working with Google on self-driving cars, Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer, said on Monday.
Urmson’s expectation that the first fully autonomous vehicles will be production-ready within five years mirrors the view expressed a day earlier by another Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla Motors Inc .
Musk, who spoke Tuesday at the Automotive News World Congress conference, said he expects the lack of clear federal regulations covering self-driving cars could delay their introduction until 2022 or 2023.
Urmson, however, said his Google colleagues “don’t see any particular regulatory hurdles.”
Google has been briefing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the chief US auto regulator, “from early on in our programme,” Urmson said. “The worst thing we could do is surprise them.”
Urmson said Google is developing and refining self-driving systems and components with such auto parts suppliers as Continental AG, Robert Bosch, ZF and LG Electronics. Google’s prototype cars use microprocessors made by Nvidia Corp, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that also supplies Mercedes-Benz and other automakers.
Continental said it began discussions in 2012 about supplying parts for Google’s self-driving car. Google asked the German supplier to provide tires, some electronics and other components, according to Samir Salman, chief executive of Continental’s NAFTA region.
Google shortly will begin deploying a test fleet of fully functioning prototypes of its pod-like self-driving car, which dispenses with such familiar automotive parts as steering wheel, brakes and accelerator pedal. While each of the Google prototypes will have a “test driver” on board, the cars have no provision for human intervention in steering or braking.
Urmson suggested the no-frills look of the Google prototypes, a far cry from the opulent appearance of the self-driving F015 concept vehicle unveiled last week by Mercedes, does not necessarily reflect the final design for production.
He described the Google prototype as “a practical, near-term testing platform” that will evolve over time.
“Airliners today don’t look like the Wright brothers’ flyer” of 100 years ago, he said.
Urmson said self-driving cars represent a “transformative” moment in the evolution of transportation, an opportunity to extend motoring to blind, elderly and disabled persons who otherwise could not drive.
“You’re really changing the relationship you have with transportation. You’re changing what it means to get around.”
Regarding Google’s desire to partner with traditional automakers and suppliers, Urmson said Detroit is more innovative than is sometimes acknowledged. Automakers are “doing something incredibly complicated.”
“You look at a car and people forget just how much magic there is in that thing.”