Ford Fusion autonomous car

Will Ford help Google build a self-driving car?

Ford Fusion autonomous carFord and Google are to announce a joint venture that will see the U.S. car maker build Google’s next-generation autonomous self-driving cars, reports suggest.

Automotive News understands negotiations have been underway for some time and an announcement may come as soon as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month.

Ford CEO Mark Fields will hold a press conference at CES 2016 on 5 January – along with product chief Raj Nair, R&D vice president Ken Washington and connected vehicles and services chief Don Butler.

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Google’s leadership team already has close connections to Ford: former CEO Alan Mulally, who led the firm to safety during the economic crisis, joined the Google board just days after leaving Ford in 2014.

John Krafcik, a former Ford chief engineer who developed cars such as the top-selling Expedition, is currently CEO of the Google Self-Driving Car Project.

Google: not a car maker

Such a contract manufacturing deal with Ford would make sense for Google, which in recent months has moved away from the idea of becoming a full auto maker.

Instead of making a pure ‘Google Car’, the firm instead wants to use its advanced autonomous software on self-driving versions of cars developed by experienced car manufacturers.

This would require significantly less upfront investment and allow firms to concentrate on their own areas of expertise.

For this reason, any Google deal with Ford may be non-exclusive, allowing Google to partner with other car firms too.

Ford already testing autonomous cars

Earlier this month, Ford received a permit to test its fully autonomous Fusion Hybrid on public roads in California.

The automaker said this was part of a 10-year autonomous vehicle development program: more than 100 engineers, researchers and scientists are currently working at the Ford Research and Innovation Centre Palo Alto – making it one of the largest car maker R&D bases in the region.

8 in 10 employees come from the tech sector, says Ford.

“Our Palo Alto team has grown significantly this year, using research and innovation to explore and develop future mobility solutions,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO.

“We’re attracting top talent from around the world to join our team in Silicon Valley, including employees from local technology companies and universities who want to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves.”