Google has quietly been running its self-driving car program under a subsidiary company called Google Auto LLC, according to documents obtained by The Guardian.
The subsidiary was created in 2011 when Google replaced its self-driving Priuses with Lexus SUVs. In the documents, Google Auto is listed as the official manufacturer of the company's 23 autonomous Lexus cars, including the ones that were involved in recently publicized accidents. Google Auto was also used to apply for each car's vehicle identification number (VIN).
It was Google Auto all along
By running the whole self-driving project through a subsidiary, Google presumably could have helped protect itself from risk. Had lawsuits been filed over the recent accidents, Google Auto would have assumed the liability instead of Google, and Google's financial assets would have been protected, according to The Guardian.
We also now know a little more about the newer, cuter self-driving cars: they're rear-wheel drive, and are powered by a 20-30kW electric motor, based on the paperwork that Google Auto filed with the NHTSA. (For reference, Tesla's engines hover around 300kW.)
Google started testing its self-driving cars on public roads in June, but the LLC's existence doesn't mean Google is any closer to its goal of making the cars commercially available. Even with hundreds of thousands of test miles logged, the cars are still experimental. Whenever that day does come, it might be a "Google Auto" car that picks you up to go to work.
Verge Vault: Google's self-driving cars might be the safest on the road (2014)