Former auto industry executive John Krafcik (John Krafcik) will resign as CEO of Waymo after taking over Google̵
Until 2015, the Google self-driving car project was led by engineer Chris Urmson. At that time, Google CEO Larry Page believed that the technology was ready for commercialization, so he hired Krafcik, an automaker, to manage the feasibility of turning the technology into a transportation product. .
Krafcik negotiated partnerships with automakers in the first few years. Negotiations about establishing a potential partnership with Ford broke down in early 2016. Krafchik then reached a smaller agreement with Fiat Chrysler to purchase 100 hybrid Pacifica Minivans, which later expanded to 500 minivans.
At the beginning of 2018, Waymo announced plans to purchase “up to” 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE electric vehicles and “up to” 62,000 Pacificas. At about the same time, Waymo said it planned to launch a driverless commercial taxi service before the end of 2018.
In short, Waymo expects that by now, its self-driving taxi service will become a big business.
Things didn’t go according to plan
If this happens, Kraffik will be in a good position to lead Waymo, because Waymo has expanded from a small pilot project in Arizona to a large enterprise with tens of thousands of cars in dozens of cities. With a deep understanding of logistics in the automotive industry and a strong relationship with the automotive industry, Krafcik can ensure that Waymo’s technology is integrated into Jaguar and Chrysler vehicles, and then the process of manufacturing a large number of vehicles can proceed smoothly.
But this did not happen, because the commercialization of autonomous driving technology proved to be much more difficult than what the leaders of Waymo and many external analysts including me expected in 2018. Waymo did launch in December 2018 A commercial service, but it comes with a big asterisk: when launched, all vehicles still have safe drivers on the steering wheels, almost ensuring that the service is unprofitable.
It will take almost two more years (until October 2020) for Waymo to stop using safety drivers in most commercial rides. There are now signs that Waymo’s service will eventually expand beyond its original market. In recent months, the company has stepped up testing in San Francisco, prompting speculation that the Bay Area may be Waymo’s second market after Phoenix.
However, compared with the company’s expectations a few years ago, the pace of growth does not seem to be optimistic. A Waymo spokesperson told Ars that the company’s fleet “has more than 600 vehicles in all of our locations.” The 600 cars are less than 1% of the 82,000 cars Waymo ordered three years ago.
The reason is not yet clear. For security reasons, Waymo may be gradually expanding. Vehicles may require a lot of human supervision at the back end, so that even without a safe driver, the service is of no avail. Waymo may take some time to build the necessary infrastructure to support thousands of cars in a bunch of cities.
To be fair, it is not clear whether this is Krafcik’s fault. Unmanned driving may only be an inherent problem, and it is difficult for Waymo to bring its technology to the market under the promotion of any leader. Not any other company in the industry has surpassed Waymo.
But the slow development of autonomous driving technology undoubtedly makes Kravčík’s expertise in the automotive industry less important. No matter what restrictions Waymo’s growth is, the shortage of vehicles is certainly not among them.
Two long-term Waymo executives will succeed Krafcik, and they will serve as co-CEOs. Dmitri Dolgov is an engineer who has been involved in Google’s self-driving car project since 2009 and served as the chief technology officer of Waymo. Tekedra Mawakana joined Waymo in 2017 to lead its policy department and was promoted to chief operating officer in 2019. Dolgov will focus on improving Waymo’s technology, while Mawakana will be in charge of business strategy.