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Google in talks with OEMs, suppliers to build self-driving cars

Internet giant Google Inc. has started talks with most of the world’s top automakers and assembled a team of global suppliers to speed its push to bring self-driving cars to market, Chris Urmson, the head of the project, said today at the Automotive News World Congress.

The suppliers named by Google included Bosch, which supplies power electronics and long-range radar to Google; ZF Lenksysteme, which supplies a new steering gear; LG Electronics, which supplies the batteries, Continental and Roush.

Urmson confirmed that Roush, the Michigan-based engineering and specialty manufacturing company, built the podlike two-seater that Google plans to start testing on public roads this year. Crain’s Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News, reported that relationship last May.

Google did not ask a large automaker to build this car, Urmson said during a discussion, but intends to do so in the future when it seeks to commercialize its technology.

“At some point, we’re going to be looking to find partners to build complete vehicles, and bring the technology to market,” Urmson said.

Asked when that might be, he replied: “when it’s safe and ready.”

He declined to name the companies or share details of their discussions. Reuters reported earlier that the manufacturers contacted by Google include General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG.

Google plans to deploy a test fleet of Roush-built prototypes in 2015. On closed courses, Urmson said, the cars will be able to operate without a steering wheel, brakes or accelerator — and drive themselves without a human passenger. Due to California regulations, controls will be added and a test driver will be behind the wheel when the car travels on public roads.

Urmson’s expectation that the first fully autonomous vehicles will be production-ready within five years mirrors the view expressed a day earlier by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.

Musk, who spoke Tuesday at the Automotive News World Congress, said he expects the lack of clear federal regulations covering self-driving cars could delay their introduction until 2022 or 2023.

Google listed its partners during today’s presentation.

Regulatory hurdles?

Urmson, however, said his Google colleagues “don’t see any particular regulatory hurdles.”

Google has been briefing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the chief U.S. auto regulator, “from early on in our program,” Urmson said. “The worst thing we could do is surprise them.”

Urmson said Google is developing and refining self-driving systems and components with such auto parts suppliers as Continental AG, Robert Bosch, ZF and LG Electronics. Google’s prototype cars use microprocessors made by Nvidia Corp, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that also supplies Mercedes-Benz and other automakers.

Two of those partners — Continental and Bosch — have developed their driverless cars as part of their effort to design software and hardware for collision avoidance. Samir Salman, CEO of Continental’s North American unit, told Automotive News that his company will help design the Google fleet’s brakes, tires, body controllers and interior electronics.

“We’ve been working with them for awhile,” Salman said. “Now we’ll concentrate on [helping Google] to build the prototypes. That’s our focus.”

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