It was only a matter of time before John Krafcik found himself back in the automotive industry. Today, the short-time CEO at TrueCar was named as the CEO of the Google Self-Driving Car Project.
Krafcik is a Southington, Connecticut native is a graduate of Stanford, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He later studied in the International Motor Vehicle Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Krafcik began in the automotive industry in 1984, when he became the first American engineer at the innovative General Motors/Toyota joint venture, NUMMI, in a factory where Tesla currently builds cars.
In 1990, Krafcik took a senior engineering position at Ford Motor Company, before Hyundai recruited him as vice president of product development and strategic planning. Krafcik rose to the position of president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America in 2008, but was ousted in a management shakeup in 2013, after Hyundai experienced a dip in sales, and an embarrassing scandal in which Hyundai over-reported its EPA fuel economy results.
Krafcik was most recently at the helm at TrueCar.
As CEO at Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, Krafcik brings career-long experience in product development, manufacturing, sales and marketing and technology. According to Fortune, he was seen as “one of the brighter, more talented executives in the industry.” Among other awards, he accepted the Silver Anniversary Executive Award from the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) in 2012.
“This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars,” said Krafcik in a statement. “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. I can’t wait to get started.”
Google has been alternately effusive and tight-lipped about its plans for its self-driving car. On the one hand, the cars have been featured in dozens of publications. But it has also been evasive when revealing any information about what it might do with the technology.
In a story in the MIT Technology Review in 2014, director of the Google car team, Chris Urmson detailed the myriad issues to overcome before a completely autonomous car without a steering wheel could be considered a viable means of transport:
“Among other unsolved problems, Google has yet to drive in snow, and Urmson says safety concerns preclude testing during heavy rains. Nor has it tackled big, open parking lots or multilevel garages. The car’s video cameras detect the color of a traffic light; Urmson said his team is still working to prevent them from being blinded when the sun is directly behind a light. Despite progress handling road crews, “I could construct a construction zone that could befuddle the car,” Urmson says.
Pedestrians are detected simply as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels—meaning, Urmson agrees, that the car wouldn’t be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop.”
Hiring Krafcik — an industry veteran with specialized skills in product development — is an indication that Google may be readying its car for prime time.