Waymo CEO Says Self-Driving Trucks May Come Before Taxis

Alphabet Inc.’s driverless vehicle technology may come to market first in trucks, rather than as an autonomous ride-sharing service.

John Krafcik, chief executive officer of Alphabet’s Waymo division, said Wednesday he’s exploring at least two paths for its self-driving systems and software. 

"Ride-sharing makes a lot of sense for the world," he said at Bloomberg’s Sooner Than You Think conference on Cornell University’s Tech engineering campus in New York City. "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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