Will Google’s Self-Driving Technology Ever See the Light of Day?

Not long ago, Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) had a big lead on the rest of the self-driving car world. But that advantage has disappeared in recent years, amid higher competition and a wave of key departures from the company.

Progress in bringing an autonomous vehicle to market has been much slower than expected at the parent company of Google. Meanwhile, companies like Uber, Tesla, and others have already unveiled early versions of self-driving cars to the public. From Bloomberg:

Once considered a leader in the field, Google has lost its first-mover advantage to other companies pursuing more practical, less-ambitious self-driving car services, said former members of the project and other people familiar with the situation. They asked not to be identified because details of the effort are private.

“They need a partner, a sales force, a strategy,” said Roger Lanctot, associate director of Strategy Analytics’ Global Automotive Practice.

Google’s quest began back in 2009, well before other major companies considered autonomous vehicles viable. It’s been busy since then logging millions of miles and trying to perfect its systems, but still nothing in terms of an actual product — or even the hint of a real product — has materialized.

“Google still has an imperfect system and no clear path to go to market,” said Ajay Juneja, chief executive officer of Speak With Me Inc., which offers voice recognition and related technology for cars, watches and other connected devices. “How exactly would they have shipped something by now?”

Still without a serious business model as to how it would sell its unfinished technology, Alphabet is at a serious crossroads. How much more time and money can they commit to a research project before it becomes onerous?

Once a pioneer in the space, it’s becoming a distinct possibility that we’ll never see a Google-powered car hit the market.

And that would be a huge missed opportunity.

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Alphabet shares fell $8.42 (-1.07%) to $780.06 in premarket trading Monday. GOOGL has gained 1.35% year-to-date, versus a 4.62% rise in the S&P 500 during the same period.

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