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Car and Driver: Google’s Latest Search Is for Automaker Partners

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Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO

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You kind of figured from the start of Google’s koala-shaped autonomous-car project that the search kingpin really just wanted to create and sell software, not build a production vehicle. That intention is now becoming more clear, so expect a few partnerships between Google and automakers to hit the news this year.

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The rumored Ford-Google deal may be still murky, and General Motors has signaled interest in hooking up, but Google is going hard on the sales pitches. At the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Google Car CEO John Krafcik said his main goal this year is to forge deals with automakers, saying that “as our technology progresses, we hope to work with many of you guys.” That’s basically what Chris Urmson, who directed the project before Krafcik left his CEO post at TrueCar, told us at the same conference a year ago.

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Google first introduced its fleet of white pods without steering wheels or pedals in May of 2014, and the company has logged some 1.3 million autonomous miles in California in both its eponymous car and its rigged fleet of Toyota Prius and Lexus RX vehicles. In 2015, Google offered the media a quick “drive,” got pulled over for going too slow, and showed how it had improved its mapping technology.

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But competitors are moving just as fast—if not quicker. BMW, Daimler, and Audi purchased Nokia HERE, which has scanned roughly 900 times more miles of public roads in precise, high-resolution maps than has Google. Tesla came out with Autopilot. Delphi completed an automated cross-country road trip in an Audi SQ5. And Apple has been ramping up its “Project Titan.”

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Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO

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In other autonomous-car news, transportation secretary Anthony Foxx (pictured above) announced at the Detroit auto show, a 10-year, $4 billion grant program to fund pilots for connected- and autonomous-vehicle research on public roads. The move will allow automakers and suppliers like Google to expand their vehicle testing nationwide, and solicit their comments on how the federal government should regulate automated vehicles. In particular, Foxx said that within six months, he wants states to follow a “model policy” that, short of a new federal law, would eventually become a national standard like the legal drinking age and graduated driver-licensing programs. The grants are part of President Obama’s budget proposal for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins October 1st.

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Autonomous driving still has a ways to go. The California DMV just reported that test drivers from seven companies needed to retake control in their autonomous cars nearly 2900 times in 2015 and part of 2014, with Google reporting 274 such incidences from its 53-car fleet. Everyone, even Google and Tesla—which just had to dial back some of Autopilot’s unlimited functionality—still has plenty of work to do before we reach our autonomous-driving future.

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2016 Detroit Auto Show Full Coverage

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