When Google originally showcased the newer low-speed “cute-mobile” self-driving car, it mentioned a goal of having about 100 of them on the road for testing within a couple years. Now, as the company is bringing its low-speed electric prototypes to Austin a year later, Sarah Hunter, head of policy for Google [X], has revealed that the company is expanding production of the cars (via The Guardian). Hunter says that Google is now producing at least a “few hundred” and hints at a potential future of mass-production…
“We’re … making a few hundred of them. We’re making them to enable our team to learn how to actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up,” Hunter told the California Public Utilities Commission, noting for the first time that Google is ramping up production of the cars. While Google clearly doesn’t have any intentions of marketing or selling these prototypes to the public in the near term, Hunter went on to once again hint at “mass manufacturing” the cars in the future. Google has previously said that it has goals for widespread distribution by 2020.
While the cute low-speed cars are completely electric, Google says that the car it eventually markets might be a hybrid:
A model where we manufacture cars for sale will require the same sort of electric vehicle charging that exists today. Our prototype vehicles are fully electric. That’s not to say the eventual vehicle we mass manufacture won’t be a hybrid…
She went on to mention that Google hasn’t yet decided exactly how it would introduce the self-driving cars to the public, assuming it one day decides to do so. Google is considering at least two models, according to Hunter. In one, Google would sell the cars directly to individuals, and the other would put Google as a direct competitor to Uber, with Google owning and operating a service:
We haven’t decided yet how we’re going to bring this to market,” admitted Hunter. “Right now, our engineers are trying to figure out … how to make a car genuinely drive itself. Once we figure that out, we’ll figure out how to bring it to market and in which way. Is it something that we manufacture at scale for sale to individuals? Or is it something that we own and operate as a service?
When will the cars be coming? Perhaps humorously, the head of an advanced transportation research programme at Berkeley suggests 2075 as a reasonable timeline for the cars to be roaming on American roads. While Google’s Sarah Hunter says that the company is still “trying to figure out … how to make a car genuinely drive itself,” she says her guess of a timeline is mostly dependent on California regulations. “Whenever California passes its operational regulations. We’re just waiting for that,” she said.