September 14, 2015 — (We updated this story on September 18). It was a busy late Sunday evening/Monday morning as news broke last night that TrueCar President John Krafcik has left the company to lead Google’s autonomous vehicle efforts.
Krafcik is the biggest name hired by either Google or Apple for their autonomous vehicle programs. He began his career with Ford Motor Co. and then ran Hyundai Motors America before becoming president of TrueCar last year.
Google quickly dispelled any notion this week that Krafcik’s hiring indicated it plans to build and manufacture its own vehicles. Time will tell.
For Google, the Krafcik hiring is brilliant. He’s the biggest automotive name to be hired by the Silicon Valley gang (Apple, Google etc). As Google and automakers grow further apart as their interests increasingly collide, Krafcik may be the person that can keep both sides working together.
Meanwhile, his departure comes on the heels of founder and Scott Painter’s ouster from TrueCar earlier this summer.
We expected TrueCar would make an announcement this week naming a new head now that it needs both a CEO and president. But that hasn’t happened as of this afternoon (September 18).
Our guess (and yes, it is just a guess) was that Chris Claus, former USAA executive and current TrueCar board member who is heading up the search for Painter’s replacement, was going to be named CEO. Well, the longer the search goes on, the less likely it will be Claus.
Although, the situation looks bad for TrueCar — several analysts this week who had been supporters of the company asked me if it was dead — it still has some life in it. The stock price, which plunged to about $5.50 earlier this week has rebounded to the $6.30 neighborhood.
The deal with Sam’s Club, if executed properly (and that’s a big if), could create big dividends for TrueCar. Costco, which also has an affinity program with dealers, generated 400,000 sales through its program last year.
The company won’t release dealer numbers until its third quarter earnings call, but we’ve heard through channels that as of a month ago, there hadn’t been a net loss or gain in dealership customers since the second quarter. That’s good news — sort of. We know it’s lost several large groups, so it folks probably are working hard to sign dealers that are smaller than what they’d like. We’re also hearing from independent used car dealers that TrueCar has stepped its efforts in that segment — something we predicted last year.