The New York Times reports that several recent moves by Google suggest that it's set to launch a new car insurance shopping site in the near future.

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Google has run an automotive insurance comparison site in the UK for a couple of years now— but it has clearly been pursuing something in the U.S., too. The Times reports that Google has recently formed a partnership CompareNow.com—"which operates like the Kayak travel site only for auto insurance"—while it's also apparently now licensed to sell insurance in more than half of the states in the country. A Google employee in San Francisco recently also became a licensed insurance agent, and analysts speculate it's to start buying insurance agencies "as a means of greasing its entry into the lucrative California market."

Insurance comparison is common in Europe but less so in America. It's a simple enough process, that allows you to see rates from competing companies for the same cover—but in the U.S., law states that the site that brings the quotes together must itself be licensed to sell the insurance to the customers. Hence the lack of companies willing to bother to provide the service. Clearly, Google is thinking differently.

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It could well be a smart move—and not just because nobody else is really doing it. In the future, insurance is likely to be a big part of autonomous vehicle sale; if Google can make an early head start, then it may well crack the market. Let's wait see. [NYT]