Before Google introduced the prototype of its autonomous car -- aka the "self-driving toaster" -- to the public last year, the search-engine giant made the rounds of the major automakers to explain the concept. At least one of the automakers was sufficiently impressed to express interest in collaborating, but was astounded to find that Google had no commercialization plans of any kind for its potentially game-changing technology.
Ever since, the auto industry has treated Google's vehicle like an uncomfortable joke: Though a source of real anxiety, the self-driving car seemed just unserious enough to laugh off. Now, however, the nervous laughter may turn to real fear.
On Monday, Google has announced the hire of one of the most respected executives in the U.S. auto industry: John Krafcik, the former chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America and president of the auto-pricing Web site TrueCar. With the auto world's eyes transfixed on the glitzy-yet-conservative new products being unveiled this week at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Google is sending the strongest sign yet that the real action in the industry is increasingly found in Silicon Valley.