Why Is Tesla Part of Google's Electric Fleet?

In this exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview, Google's Rick Needham describes the company's fleet of electric vehicles and how it has enabled millions of miles of electric driving (almost 2M and counting).

As well as the "usual suspects" like Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Focus Electric, Google's electric "Gfleet" includes several Tesla Model Ss, a favorite due to its range of up to 265 miles. But is this the whole story? Some commentators say it's part of an ambitious plan by Google involving electric vehicles, driverless cars, Google maps and car sharing services like Uber.

Google continues to grow its electric fleet. In 2011, it had 30 electric plug-ins, today it has over 50.

Here's what Needham had to say about:

1. Google's focus on the self-driving car

"We view that as a very interesting place to spend some time and effort and come up with a technology solution that can really help. It's not just the car that's underutilized; it's the infrastructure, the roads. If you could enable that to be utilized more effectively... whether that be cars that can travel closer together (in a platoon), cars that travel and you can be doing productive things while they're moving... There are a lot of opportunities on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side." Google's Rick Needham

This strategy makes a lot of sense, given Google's ability to integrate Google Maps and traffic conditions to make driving both more efficient and safer.

2. Why it invested in car sharing companies Uber, Sidecar and Relay Rides

"It's an enormous opportunity. Today the car sharing market is just over $3 Billion (in the US)...That's just starting out...there quite a roadway, a runway there, to have a much bigger impact..." Google's Rick Needham

Peter Delevett has written about how the Uber investment offers synergistic opportunities for Google and may help change the future of transportation.

Why it all might be related

Some commentators like Green Car Report's John Voelcker have speculated that all this might be part of Google's grand plan to purchase Tesla and use it to launch a driverless car-sharing taxi service sometime in the 2020s. Tesla's Elon Musk is good friends with Larry Page and has discussed the potential of driverless cars.

Google's Clean Energy Struggle

Today, despite investing over $1Billion in wind and solar power, only 34% of the energy Google uses comes from renewable sources. This isn't something to boast about, especially given Apple's claim to use 100% renewable power, but as Needham explains, he's chasing a moving target. As the number of Google searches soars and more Google services are adopted, Google's energy use is growing so fast that it battles to keep up with clean energy sources.

Find out more about Google's strategy to green its energy supply, green its buildings, and reduce its carbon footprint.

From the Fresh Dialogues archives, here's an interview with Google's Parag Chokshi about Google's Green Dream, which predicts electric vehicles could command a 90% market share by 2030.

Find out more about Tesla and why Elon Musk became its reluctatnt CEO here