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Conor Sen

Disrupters Don’t Stand a Chance Against Car Companies

Waymo and Uber may pioneer self-driving cars, but history shows incumbents like GM are more likely to follow through.

Companies like GM know how to work at scale.

Companies like GM know how to work at scale.

Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

The technology for self-driving cars keeps improving. And there's no shortage of investment, from both tech and automobile companies. What's missing so far is a business model, and even the best ideas can get only so far without one. The history of Google Fiber provides a cautionary tale.

Google first announced its intent to create what eventually became known as Google Fiber in February 2010. The goal was to deliver gigabit internet at a competitive price to "at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people." Communities were encouraged to apply to be the first "Fiber city," and that kicked off a feeding frenzy not unlike what we've seen as Amazon searches for a city to plant a second headquarters. About a year later Google announced that Kansas City, Kansas, would be the first to have the new service. Service became available in September 2012 and was declared by executive chairman Eric Schmidt to be a viable business at the end of that year.