Waymo CEO Says Self- Driv­ing Trucks May Come Be­fore Taxis

Al­pha­bet arm ex­plor­ing “goods trans­porta­tion” and ride-hail­ing; Kraf­cik says Ford, GM and Honda could still part­ner with Waymo

Financial Chronicle - - BRANDS - MARK BER­GEN

AL­PHA­BET Inc’s driver­less ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy may come to mar­ket first in trucks, rather than as an au­ton­o­mous rideshar­ing ser­vice.

John Kraf­cik, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Al­pha­bet’s Waymo di­vi­sion, said Wed­nes­day he’s ex­plor­ing at least two paths for its self­driv­ing sys­tems and soft­ware. “Ride-shar­ing makes a lot of sense for the world,” he said. “For goods trans­porta­tion, which could travel pri­mar­ily on high­ways, there’s a good and com­pelling use-case there, too. Ei­ther of those two might be the first ones you see.”

Kraf­cik has noted the com­pany is look­ing at lo­gis­tics and de­liv­ery mod­els, but he has not shared de­tails on its plans for a truck­ing or goods tran­sit ser­vice. Waymo has con­firmed that it owns one truck it is test­ing with self-driv­ing soft­ware and sen­sors.

The Al­pha­bet arm started a small ride-shar­ing trial ear­lier this year out­side Phoenix, invit­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple to hail its self-driv­ing mini­vans us­ing a mo­bile app. That pro­gram is free at the mo­ment. And, so far, Waymo only has one au­tomaker sup­ply­ing ve­hi­cles, Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles NV.

To get more part­ners, Kraf­cik is pitch­ing au­tomak­ers on a rad­i­cal new per-mile busi­ness model: They can make more money pro­vid­ing a mo­bil­ity ser­vice over the life­time of their ve­hi­cles, rather than one time up front when they sell cars and trucks.

Detroit’s giants, Ford Mo­tor Co and Gen­eral Mo­tors Co, have spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars on their own au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy and pro­grams, and so far have been cau­tious about team­ing up with Waymo.

Kraf­cik said these ef­forts were “ex­am­ples of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and learn­ing,” not a sign of re­sis­tance to Waymo’s over­tures. He equated them with the prac­tice at Boe­ing Co and other air­line com­pa­nies, which hire jet en­gine spe­cial­ists. They don’t man­u­fac­ture the en­gines, but their en­gi­neers help source them. “That helps them be a very smart pur­chaser,” he said.

Would car­mak­ers like GM, Ford and Honda Mo­tor Co even­tu­ally ink deals with Waymo? “Some may,” Kraf­cik said. “It’s pos­si­ble.” Waymo and Honda have held talks about a po­ten­tial part­ner­ship.

Ear­lier on Wed­nes­day, a judge cleared Waymo’s path to pro­ceed in its trade se­cret theft law­suit against ride-hail­ing com­pany Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc.

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