Google’s autonomous car project manager resigns

John Krafcik, Managing Director of the Google Self-Driving Project Waymo, left the $ 30 billion group after more than five years and will be replaced by two senior executives, the company said on Friday.

Krafcik, who will remain an advisor, said he was leaving Waymo to “start new adventures”, citing a “refreshment period”, spending time with friends and family and traveling, according to one. blog post.

He told the Financial Times he planned to quit “a little earlier,” but Covid-19 has delayed plans. He and his wife have already moved to Austin, Texas, where they bought a house last year.

Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana and CTO Dmitri Dolgov will take the lead.

The company was seen as the leader in driverless cars since Google invented the category in 2009, although the industry has been the subject of overconfidence and hype.

In 2018, Waymo made deals with Jaguar and Fiat Chrysler to build more than 80,000 autonomous vehicles for a driverless fleet expected to start that year. Progress has been much slower, with Waymo One driverless phone service only operating in part of Phoenix today.

Still, under Krafcik, Waymo has stayed ahead of its rivals including Cruise, Aurora and Argo AI backed by General Motors. “If you look back over the past five to six years, they’re far from the only ones who are overly optimistic about the timing of the introduction of autonomy,” said Mike Ramsey, analyst at Gartner. “They didn’t make it, but neither did anyone else.”

Before Krafcik joined in 2015, the Google Project had carried out public demonstrations of its two-seater autonomous vehicle, the Firefly. Under Krafcik, former CEO of Hyundai’s North American operations, Waymo refocused his efforts on the autonomous driving system alone – what he calls “the driver” – choosing to partner with companies rather than compete with them.

Waymo made deals last year to build driverless vehicles with Volvo, vans with Fiat Chrysler, and semi-trucks with Daimler, to name a few.

The company also raised $ 3.2 billion for a valuation north of $ 30 billion. Krafcik called the deal “the biggest capital increase for a pre-income company in the history of the universe.” Investors included Silver Lake and Andreessen Horowitz, institutional investors T Rowe Price and Fidelity, as well as auto groups Magna and AutoNation.

Commenting on Krafcik’s unexpected exit, two people said the double successor strategy could signal a power struggle. One person said Mawakana, who previously held positions at eBay, Yahoo and AOL, was the “natural fit” as Krafcik’s successor, but such a choice could risk the wrath of company co-founder Dolgov. having previously worked at Google and Toyota’s research arm.

However, Krafcik said that “there was absolutely no power struggle.” He pointed out that the succession plan was drawn up by him and then approved by the owner of Google Alphabet and Waymo’s board of directors. “There is strong support for both of them and they are working brilliantly together,” he said.

One person also noted that Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s chief financial officer, had “tightened the screws” recently – Waymo burned billions of dollars – and “there could be growing impatience” as to when the project could begin. to generate significant income.

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