By Richard Truett and Gabe Nelson, Crain News Service
DETROIT (Dec. 22, 2015) — Ford Motor Co. and Google Inc. are in talks to have the auto maker build Google's next-generation autonomous cars under contract, Automotive News has learned.
Although few details about the project are known, a source with knowledge of the project said both parties have been negotiating on a contract manufacturing deal “for a long time.” An announcement, if finalized, could come as early as the week of Jan. 4 during the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
A Google spokesman said the firm would not comment on speculation, but company officials confirmed it is talking to auto makers.
Ford spokesman Alan Hall neither confirmed nor denied a possible deal.
“We work with a lot of tech companies all over the world. We keep these discussions private for obvious competitive reasons and we do not comment on speculation,” he said.
Google has added two veteran Ford executives to its leadership team. Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally joined Google's board of directors eight days after he retired from the auto maker on July 1, 2014. Then in September, Google hired John Krafcik as CEO of the company's Self-Driving Car Project. Mr. Krafcik, who most recently was president of TrueCar Inc., was CEO of Hyundai Motor America. He spent 14 years at Ford, including a stint as chief engineer during the development of the Ford Expedition SUV.
Ford is scheduled to hold a press conference Jan. 5 in Las Vegas. CEO Mark Fields, product development chief Raj Nair, research and advanced engineering vice president Ken Washington, and Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicles and services, are scheduled to attend.
Yahoo Autos reported on the negotiations on Dec. 21, quoting three sources familiar with the deal who said the deal would create a joint venture legally separate from Ford. The venture would shield Ford from potential liability. The agreement, if completed, also would be non-exclusive, meaning Google could negotiate a similar deal with another auto maker, Yahoo Autos reported.
A Ford deal with Google would fit within the strategy laid out by Mr. Fields, who last January launched a plan called “Ford Smart Mobility” to bolster the company's expertise in car sharing and other new business models for transportation.
Ford executives have been dropping hints all year that it could work with Google, Apple or another tech giant to accelerate its quest to bring self-driving cars to market.