Google wants to amend Michigan autonomous vehicle bills

Google is contesting legislation the Michigan Senate passed last week to make the state a hub for autonomous car research.

The technology giant sees some of the language as excluding companies like Google that are newcomers to making cars.

In a letter to Rep. Bradford Jacobsen, R-Oxford, and members of the House Communications and Technology Committee, Google executive John Krafcik, head of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, took issue with two provisions and asked that they be amended.

The first defines a "motor vehicle manufacturer" as a company that has distributed motor vehicles before participating in research within Michigan.

"One interpretation of that definition would exclude companies, like Google, that manufactures autonomous vehicles but do not currently sell them," Krafcik wrote.

The second provision requires autonomous vehicles operating in Michigan to be "supplied or controlled by a motor vehicle manufacturer."

"That could be interpreted to exclude vehicles supplied by a vehicle manufacturer that another company, like Google, modifies with automated driving systems," Krafcik said. "We urge you to consider these small but crucial amendments to the bills to ensure that investment and deployment of autonomous vehicle technology is not inadvertently discouraged in the state."

Google's involvement underscores how high the stakes have risen in the autonomous vehicle race. It also reflects the unavoidable turf battles that will be fought as traditional automakers and suppliers compete with new players like Google. Michigan is one of many states trying to position itself as friendly to those developing the technologies.

Neither Rep. Jacobsen nor Senate Majority Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, who was copied on the letter, could be reached for comment by press time. Jacobsen's committee heard testimony Tuesday on the bills. In a statement, he said the Communications and Technology committee plans to vote on the legislation "in coming weeks."

Krafcik, who lived in Michigan when he worked at Ford early in his career, also spent considerable time in Hyundai's Ann Arbor technical center when he was CEO of Hyundai Motor America.

"Who did Michigan want to include in this great project of automated driving? The careful language in that letter could give an advantage to traditional manufacturers," said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina professor who has studied the legal and regulatory issues surrounding self-driving cars.


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