After five and a half years in charge of Waymo, John Krafchik announced on Friday that he was stepping down, leaving the company to two co-executives, Tekedra Mavakana and Dmitry Dolgov.
Krafcik has overseen the company’s most important milestones, its rebranding of Waymo, partnerships and external funding, while leading the enthusiasm in the ranks. But Krafchik’s departure signals a long and difficult reality test for early advertising and hope for scaling up self-driving vehicles.
“If you look at the past year and a half, almost all autonomous vehicle development companies are seeing a growing awareness that this is a much more difficult problem than we thought,”
Abuelsamid said Krafcik’s connections and experience in the automotive industry – he was previously president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America – have helped Waymo establish critical partnerships with automakers, including Fiat Chrysler and Volvo.
In 2020, he received the company’s first round of external funding for the more than 10-year-old, a $ 2.25 billion round of financing led by Silicon Valley investment companies, including Silver Lake. He then raised another $ 750 million. He also led the launch of a local freight delivery service called Waymo Via, and recently launched its first fully self-driving car service, which some residents can order in Phoenix, Arizona.
Krafchik took the lead in 2015, and in 2016 led Waymo to join an industrial consortium to accelerate self-driving cars. Alphabet became a founding member of a group called the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which includes Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise, Ford, Uber, Volvo and Zoox.
Knowing the business and the back end of car scaling, Krafchik did not deviate from reality. Even less in recent years.
Close-up of a self-driving minivan, with LIDAR and other sensor modules and a visible logo, part of the parent company of Google Alphabet Inc, passing a historic Mountain View train station in Silicon Valley, Mountain View, California, certainly a driver visible , October 28, 2018
Smith / Gado Collection Archive photos Getty images
Under Alphabet’s Other Betting umbrella, the company is constantly bleeding money, which is less accepted as Ruth Porat joined the company as CFO and tightened the strings. The Other bets segment showed an operating loss of $ 4.48 billion in 2020. That was more than $ 2.03 billion in 2019. Covid also affected operations, as CNBC recently revealed that Waymo is unsure. that it can afford to continue paying some workers amid a pandemic.
Krafchik’s departure comes ahead of expected US federal regulations on self-driving cars.
The National Transportation Safety Board recently called on its sister agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to impose stricter standards on automated vehicle technology. NHTSA requested public comments prior to the proposed rulemaking and closed the comment period on 1 April.
Krafchik is aware of what is at stake.
After a pedestrian was hit and killed by a Uber semi-autonomous vehicle in Arizona in 2018, Krafchik told CNBC that part of his responsibility at Waymo is “to make sure that the world, the cities we operate in, and regulators, who regulate these cities find out our technology. ”
However, Krafchik was no stranger to those who prevailed over reality when self-driving cars would be available. Waymo and Krafcik assured the press and the public that the technology was coming quickly, dating back to 2012, when it was still known as Google’s self-driving car project.
Krafchik said in 2017 that he would not have to wait until 2020 when – when analysts expect self-driving cars to become fully autonomous – but this will allow drivers to “within” months.
“There are completely self-driving cars here,” Krafchik said at the 2017 summit in Lisbon, where he presented a video of a man asleep in one of Waymo’s cars. “It’s not happening in 2020, it’s happening today.”
At the time, he did not explain how early the testing was and what obstacles remained.
In recent years, the company has begun to regain its enthusiastic tone, after lagging behind its original schedule for bringing fully self-driving cars on the road.
In 2019, a CNBC report found that Waymo still relies heavily on drivers for human safety and still needs a decent amount from the community. Shortly afterwards, Morgan Stanley lowered his rating for Waymo by 40 percent, from $ 175 billion to $ 105 billion, saying he underestimated the great trust the company still had in human drivers.
In 2019, Waymo’s chief operating officer and current chief executive, Tekedra Mavakana, told a conference that noise around self-driving cars was becoming “unmanageable.”
That same year, Krafchik began to soften his rhetoric by pouring cooler water on the subject at a meeting of the National Association of Governors in 2019. Towards the end of the year, the company consolidated its operations in Detroit and Phoenix, closing its Austin, Texas facility. 100 workers, CNBC found.
With over 20 million miles on public roads and 20 billion miles in simulation, Waymo leads other companies in self-management technology. But there is still a long way to go if he wants to scale, even if Krafchik has helped move forward.
“I think maybe he saw this as a good time to retire,” Abuelsamid said. “He’s put the company on the right track. And maybe he’s just tired of the fight and wants to go do something else for a while.”
Krafchik did not respond to a request for comment.
Laura Kolodny of CNBC participated in this article.
Now, look: This Arizona city is crowded with Waymo self-driving cars