Google picks CEO for self-driving car project

Google has hired automotive industry veteran John Krafcik to run its self-driving car project, the company said on Sunday night.

Chris Urmson, an engineer who has led the project through years of experimentation, will remain its technical lead. But hiring Krafcik, a business and thought leader in the car production industry, as CEO, signals a more serious stage for Google’s automotive ambitions.

Krafcik’s roots in the Bay Area auto industry run deep. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in mechanical engineering, he was one of the first engineers to work for New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, the Fremont plant that was a unique, binational joint venture operated by Toyota and General Motors. He later used that experience to write a landmark article for MIT Sloan Management Review called “Triumph of the Lean Production System.” The NUMMI plant closed in 2010 and is now Tesla’s car factory, but Krafcik’s 1988 graduate student manifesto helped define and spread the “lean” manufacturing philosophy inspired by Toyota’s waste-cutting practices.

His experience also includes a decade at Hyundai Motor America, half of that time as its president and CEO in charge of the carmaker’s U.S. operations. He also had leadership positions at Ford from 1990 to 2004. He has most recently been an executive at Santa Monica-based car-buying website TrueCar.

Google said in a statement Sunday that while the self-driving car project now has its first CEO, that does not mean it will immediately become a separate business under Google’s newly formed parent company Alphabet.

“This is about getting ourselves ready for the future, so we can bring this technology to its full potential,” the company said. “The project is not becoming an Alphabet company at this stage, though it’s certainly a good candidate to become one at some point in the future. The team is still a part of our X lab.”

Above: A screenshot of John Krafcik’s Twitter page on Sunday night, Sept. 13, shortly after he announced he will be the new CEO of Google’s self-driving car project.


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