It appears that Google may be moving beyond the research phase of its self-driving cars, ramping up production for possible retail sale in the future.
For the past six years Google has been testing autonomous vehicle technology. Then, in 2014, the company released its own vehicle: a compact self-driving car with no steering wheel or pedals, built from the ground up. And the tech company continues to expand its autonomous patents – last month it added a pothole detection system to the list.
Through it all, analysts have wondered what the end game was for Google. Is the company developing systems to sell to other carmakers, or is Google taking steps toward building vehicles itself?
Sarah Hunter, head of policy for GoogleX, revealed this week that the company might now be leaning toward mass production for its battery electric car.
“We’re … making a few hundred of them. We’re making them to enable our team to learn how to actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up,” Hunter told an audience Thursday at the California Public Utilities Commission.
A production run of a few hundred marks an increase over the 100 vehicles Google said it would build by the end of this year.
Hunter also noted that Google’s car is still in the prototype phase, with components such as the powertrain still under discussion.
“A model where we manufacture cars for sale will require the same sort of electric vehicle charging that exists today,” said Hunter. “Our prototype vehicles are fully electric. That’s not to say the eventual vehicle we mass manufacture won’t be a hybrid.”
Another possible direction for Google is to branch into a taxi service with its self-driving cars.
“We haven’t decided yet how we’re going to bring this to market,” Hunter said. “Right now, our engineers are trying to figure out … how to make a car genuinely drive itself. Once we figure that out, we’ll figure out how to bring it to market and in which way. Is it something that we manufacture at scale for sale to individuals? Or is it something that we own and operate as a service?”
Either way, these comments suggest that Google wants to maintain ownership and control over its vehicles, and not sell the technology to another carmaker.