Ford has announced big plans to grow its influence in the self-driving car market, with President and CEO Mark Fields announcing that the company will mass-produce fully autonomous vehicles for ride-sharing purposes by 2021.
This, its first fully autonomous vehicle, is without a steering wheel, or acceleration and break pedals and has been designed specifically for commercial mobility services including ride sharing/hailing.
To support this development, Fields announced that Ford is tripling its investment into semi-autonomous systems, including partnering with four specialist start-ups in the sector to work on advanced control algorithms, 3D mapping, cameras and light detecting and ranging (LiDAR) sensors.
It also plans to expand its Silicon Valley campus and double the size of its Palo Alto-based research team as well as put approximately 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrids onto roads across America – testing of these vehicles began late last year.
Many companies have already been making in-roads in the areas of autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing, such as General Motors with its investment in Lyft, Nissan’s semi-autonomous systems and Tesla, although recent crashes of autonomous vehicles have been set backs for the technology.
Fields has made it clear that Ford is “not in a race to be first”, instead highlighting that the company is positioning itself to be a leader within the arena and that this latest announcement is part of the company’s ‘Ford Smart Mobility’ plan to take the business in this direction.
“The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” he said.
“We have a strategic advantage because of our ability to combine the software and sensing technology with the sophisticated engineering necessary to manufacture high-quality vehicles. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world,” added Raj Nair, Executive Vice President, Global Product development, and Chief Technical Officer.
With the focus currently on ride-share/hire services, Ford has not yet announced whether it plans to partner with established companies such as Uber and Lyft or roll out its own service, but Field noted that that all options are currently on the table.
Nair added that taking this direction was the best way to reach the mass market and making autonomous vehicles more affordable, noting that Ford is unlikely to offer similar cars to consumers until 2025 or beyond.