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Google just got REALLY serious about driverless cars

Eric Schmidt and Anthony Foxx with Google car
Getty Images

Google has appointed a former auto executive as its first CEO for its driverless cars division on Monday, in a sign the U.S. search giant is getting serious about bringing autonomous vehicles to market.

John Krafcik steps into the role, leaving his job as president of car price comparison website TrueCar. Krafcik is an auto-industry veteran with a previous role in product development at Ford, and as CEO of Hyundai Motors America, where he spent a decade of his career.

Autonomous driving is becoming a hot topic for technology companies like Google and Apple, which is reportedly working on a project in the space. But traditional auto firms have been trying to defend themselves against tech companies encroaching on their space. A consortium of German carmakers earlier this year bought Nokia's HERE mapping business– a key component of driverless cars – for 2.8 billion euros ($3.1 billion).

The hire hints at Google's seriousness about commercializing its autonomous car project and turning it into a fully-functioning business.

"This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars. I can't wait to get started," Krafcik said in a tweet on Monday.

"Self-driving cars could save thousands of lives, give people greater mobility & free us from things we find frustrating about driving today," he continued in another tweet.

Over the past few years, Google has been trying to diversify its business. Earlier this year, the Mountain View, California-based firm re-organized the business into a holding company called Alphabet with its main Google business containing units like YouTube and Android, split from other arms such as its smart thermostat section Nest.

The driverless cars project is part of Google X, the company's secret research lab. By hiring a CEO, this could put the autonomous vehicle unit on course to become a separate entity from Google X, according to a Google spokesperson quoted in the Wall Street Journal.

Google is trying to move quickly with the project and has tested their pod-like vehicles on public roads in both California and Austin, Texas.

It's unclear as of yet how driverless cars will progress but Google has previously said that it won't manufacture its own vehicles but instead looking to partner with other companies.