Auto industry, meet tech. Tech industry, meet autos.
Such is the collision course between the global technology and automotive industries that many, myself included, eagerly hope will lead to meaningful improvements to the way we travel and commute in the decades to come.
Along with hybrids and electric vehicles such as Tesla Motors, a number of technology's most powerful incumbents -- specifically Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Apple -- are both well under way in developing their respective automotive products. And although Apple recently turned heads when word of the accelerated production schedule for its Project Titan made the news, Google also generated plenty of buzz when it hired longtime auto executive John Krafcik as the first CEO of its self-driving car project earlier this month.
So as he tries to take on Apple, Tesla, and Detroit, what should Google investors know about its new automotive chief? Here are four important points on the man currently at the helm of Google's driverless-cars project.
1. He has an auto-industry resume to die for
Krafcik earned his undergraduate degree in engineering with distinction from Stanford and his master's in management, a precursor to its MBA program, from MIT. After completing his graduate research (more on that in a moment), Krafcik took his talents to Ford, where he worked in product management for 14 years. After that, he worked at Hyundai North America for a decade, the latter half of which he served as the CEO of Hyundai North America.
2. He's a budding entrepreneur
Krafcik then opted to transition into a different area of the automotive industry -- the startup space. From April of last year through his departure to head Google's driverless car initiatives this month, Krafcik held the position of president at car-pricing service TrueCar, where he helped lead the company's successful IPO last May. In discussing this time as a member of TrueCar's executive team (he still holds a board seat), Krafcik said:
I was attracted to TrueCar because I love the auto industry. I love the retail side and the dealer network ... But I also love tech, and this is one of those rare companies that operates at the intersection of auto, retail, and technology.
That quote paints Krafcik as the perfect person to help bring Google's automotive efforts to market, and Google investors should take comfort in the fact that such a well-regarded leader chose to shepherd this high profile project.
3. He's a visionary researcher
While completing his studies at MIT's Sloan School of Management, Krafcik pioneered research that would forever change the manufacturing process and production world. If you've ever heard the popular term "lean manufacturing" or any of its numerous derivations -- lean management, lean startup, and so on -- Krafcik wrote the paper that introduced the topic. His paper "Triumph of the Lean Production System" led to this concept's place as a pillar of operations thinking nearly 30 years since Krafcik first published his research. This feat alone would be enough to have provided an illustrious career, which makes his numerous other accomplishments all the more impressive.
4. He's a true executive on Google's driverless-car team
Lastly, a bit of perspective on Krafcik and his place within Google's overall self-driving car efforts. Krafcik should be thought of as an executive in its most literal sense. Although he's a brilliant engineer and production veteran, Google has gone to great lengths to hire some of the brightest minds in driverless-car technology, among them project directors Sebastian Thrun and Chris Urmson. These pure technologists are more likely to create the actual product, while Krakcik's role will more likely involve helping with the production side and leveraging his deep pool of contacts within the automotive industry for advice and talent that the project requires. This approach seems very much in line with the typical CEO and VP-level manager relationship. However, for those new to this storyline, it deserves mentioning.
Foolish bottom line
Since the start of the month, a number of marquee storylines have brought increased attention to this budding intersection of two formerly distant industries. Krafcik's hiring as the first ever CEO of a Google X subsidiary fits this bill. However, the increased competition we're likely to see as competition heats up between these two powerhouse industries will require far more than the kind of pedigree Krafcik brings to the table. Now it's up to Google investors to see if he can execute on perhaps his most ambitious endeavor yet.