Just few weeks after Google got us all excited about its impending fleet of autonomous Chrysler minivans, the company's Self-Driving Car project announced that it's packing up at least part of its operation and moving it to Detroit. Ford, hide your engineers! In a short post on its Self-Driving Car blog, Google confirmed that it was opening an R&D center in Novi, Michigan, about a 35-minute drive from Chrysler Fiat's HQ in Auburn Hills:
Many of our current partners are based here, so having a local facility will help us collaborate more easily and access Michigan's top talent in vehicle development and engineering. At this 53,000 sq ft development center, our engineers, working with local partners, will further develop and refine self-driving technology. One of the first tasks will be to ready our self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans.
Although Google has said before that it's not necessarily interested in making a car, this hints that the company will be much more involved in the actual manufacturing process of said minivans. Additionally, the location is not too far away from Mcity, the Ann Arbor testing facility for autonomous vehicles.
But I think the key phrase for this announcement is "access Michigan's top talent in vehicle development and engineering". While Google has been drawing plenty of auto-folk out to Silicon Valley, the benefit of being in the mix is that they will be able to more easily poach the smartest people living and working in Detroit. And when you look at the rather dismal financial outlook for these automakers, I can only assume they will be banging down the doors of this Novi warehouse. After all, human-driven cars are over, and Google's car is the future.
More importantly, Google's proximity to other automakers will likely lead to more collaborations, since the Chrysler deal is just a 100-van one-off, for now. Especially when a "strategic partnership" with a tech company is the hottest thing for all carmakers to have at the moment, it's very smart for Google to keep its options open as it moves into town.