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Autos

Google hires TrueCar executive to run autonomous-car division

A prototype Google self-driving car is presented at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., on May 13.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Signaling ever more clearly its intention to put an autonomous vehicle on American roads, Google has hired veteran automobile executive John Krafcik to run its self-driving car division.

Krafcik, currently president of the online car-shopping company TrueCar, was formerly a top officer of Ford and Hyundai, where he served as president and chief executive of the South Korean car company’s U.S. operations.

Starting Sept. 15, Krafcik will be CEO of Google’s nascent self-driving car division. He replaces Chris Urmson, who will remain in charge of development for the technical side of the autonomous-vehicle program.

Krafik will retain his seat on the TrueCar board.

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“We’re investing in building out a team that can help us bring this technology to its full potential in the coming years,” said Google spokesperson Kara Berman. “John’s combination of technical expertise and auto industry experience will be particularly valuable as we collaborate with many different partners to achieve our goal of transforming mobility for millions of people.”

The company will not, however, begin building cars any time soon.

“We’re not going to manufacture cars,” Berman said. “We’re a long way from the sort of scale operation that we’d need to really bring self-driving cars to consumers in a meaningful way.”

The respected, tousle-haired Krafcik, who had been with TrueCar about 18 months, called the move “a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars,” and hailed the safety value of cars that will one day drive better without human input.

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“This technology can save thousands of lives, give millions of people greater mobility, and free us from a lot of the things we find frustrating about driving today,” Krafcik said in a statement. “I can’t wait to get started.”

The hire represents a geographical return for Krafcik, whose automotive career began in the Silicon Valley at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, the former joint-venture plant operated by Toyota and GM. The electric car company Tesla now occupies the former NUMMI plant.

TrueCar said in announcing Krafcik’s departure that the company was “saddened” to lose the executive.

TrueCar’s chief financial officer, Mike Guthrie, will add the title of interim chief operating officer and take on overseeing the the day-to-day operations of the business, the company said, as it begins the search for a new CEO.

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Santa Monica-based TrueCar, which serves as a go-between for its dealers and car shoppers, has had a bumpy season. In July, the company’s stock dropped sharply after an announcement that revenue would be about $65 million, compared with the $67 million to $69 million it had projected, and that sales for the rest of the year would be lower than expected.

The online car-buying portal said sales and online traffic were slower than anticipated, problems compounded by greater spending on marketing and recruiting than had been initially planned.

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“This is an important wake-up call to us,” TrueCar Chief Executive Scott Painter said at the time, reporting a second-quarter loss of $15 million to $15.5 million. “We clearly need to focus, prioritize better and show a bit more discipline on the cost side of the business.”

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In early August, Painter announced that he would be stepping down as CEO. Krafcik would have been considered the top candidate for the job.

TrueCar stock dropped 5% in early trading Monday on Wall Street.

Google has also had a bumpy season -- literally. The company reported this summer that vehicles in its fleet of 23 self-driving prototypes had been involved in six accidents on California roadways. All involved errors by drivers of non-autonomous cars crashing into the Google vehicles, the company said.

Twitter: @misterfleming

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