Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOG) Waymo self-driving car unit is entering the Chinese market, gearing up to open an office in Shanghai at the same time Google is mulling the launch of a search engine in the country.
Citing a filing with China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System, The Wall Street Journal reported the new Waymo unit, which registered $508,000 in capital, will develop and test self-driving vehicles and parts. The unit could also provide consulting on supply chain management and logistics, reported the Journal, citing the filing. Waymo is listed as the only shareholder in the Chinese unit with Kevin Vosen, the general counsel at Waymo, named as the chair.
Chief Executive John Krafcik and other Waymo executives were also named as representatives of the new unit. The newspaper noted that the filing is from May but was made public by Chinese state media this week. (See more: Google's Waymo Poaches Tesla's Safety Head.)
China a Big Opportunity for Waymo
For Waymo, China represents a big opportunity, particularly for partnerships with local players. Yale Zhang, managing director at Automotive Foresight, the Shanghai consultant firm, told the Journal that the small car makers in China don’t have the resources to create their own self-driving systems and could look to Waymo for help. It doesn’t hurt that China just happens to be the largest automobile market in the globe. Speculation about Waymo’s entrance into China has been surging ever since Shanghai government officials came to the U.S. in July to meet with tech companies including Google.
Google Eyes Mobile Search Engine for China
Waymo’s entrance into China is just the latest effort by Google to get back into a market its search engine has been banned from since 2010. Back then Google balked at agreeing to China’s censorship rules, but its stance on that appears to be changing.
Earlier this month, The Intercept reported Google was working on a mobile search product dubbed Dragonfly that would adhere to China’s strict censorship laws. Documents viewed by the website show Google’s Chinese search app will "automatically identify and filter websites blocked by the Great Firewall." Searches for certain words or phrases will also be blacklisted and show no results, according to The Intercept. (See more: Google Bows to Censorship in New China App: Report.)
That report prompted widespread internal backlash, prompting Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai to downplay the potential for Google to launch a censorship-friendly mobile search app in the country. He told workers the company wasn’t close to debuting a search product, reported CNBC.