For the past five years Google has been experimenting with self-driving cars, and for the past five years it's refused to answer questions about its plans, be they entering the car manufacturing business, selling driverless car technology to automakers, or something else entirely. But one thing is clear: Google's keeping its options open. Why else would it establish its own car company?
Documents unearthed by The Guardian show that Google quietly established Google Auto LLC in 2011. The company initially used this division to test its modified self-driving Lexus SUVs. Later, it registered Google Auto as a passenger vehicle manufacturer, and last year it licensed it as a carmaker in California.
The discovery of Google Auto and Google's positioning of it says a lot about the company's ambitions in the driverless car space. In the past, Google seemed wary of car manufacturing. "We think there's a business opportunity here, but what's evident is that making cars is really hard, and the car companies are quite good at it," Chris Urmson, head of Google's self-driving car initiative, told USA Today earlier this year. "So, in my mind, the solution is to find a partnership."
That may well be the case. But owning Google Auto — a registered and licensed car manufacturer — leaves the door open for other possibilities.
Brendan Klinkenberg is a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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