Google Car
Google is to produce a fleet of driverless cars in DetroitGoogle

Where once its streets echoed to the hum of production lines and rattled in the wake of passing V8s, Detroit is now the home of Google's electric, driverless car.

Revealed last year, the fully autonomous "pods" are being developed and assembled at a Roush facility, 20 miles from the centre of Detroit, formerly known as Motor City and the home of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

Once built, a fleet of Google's cars will head from snowy Detroit to sunny California for testing in the spring. The goal, says Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project, is to sell relations of these cars to customers within five years.

The news underscores Detroit's plans to become a hub for tech startup companies and innovation, having lost its way during the financial crisis of 2008 and recession that followed. It also further cements Google's ambitions of being much more than just a technology company.

Legislation is unlikely to be a barrier for Google, as driverless cars have already been given the green light to roam public streets in many US states, including Nevada, Florida, Washington DC, California and Michigan.

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, Urmson said: "If you want to do something auto, it's out here. To say Silicon Valley is the only place where innovation happens is wrong. It is not a crusty Detroit/shiny Silicon Valley. Anyone who thinks that is crazy."

Urmson said Google had gone through "a couple more generations" since the self-driving car was first shown to the public in May last year and a new batch of cars will be built, increasing the test fleet to 150 vehicles.

The Google car does not have any conventional controls or a steering wheel. Instead, the driver simply tells the car where they want to go and presses a button. While this was little more than an idea a year ago, Urmson said it is now "solid and real".

But despite several new generations being produced, Google is keen to keep the original car's friendly design, as Urmson justified by asking: "When you first see a driverless vehicle in your neighbourhood, do you want it to be a big black SUV?"

Google has covered more than 700,000 miles testing the cars and although there have been no accidents to date, they are unable to drive in the rain or on snow.

But confident the fully self-driving car will soon be a reality, Urmson said: "We drive you. A blind man can pick up his laundry."