Ford lays out driverless plans; anticipates commercial production by 2021

Image credit: reuters

Automaker Ford is planning to start testing its self-driving technology next year, although commercial production of the vehicles is not anticipated before 2021.

The company will start testing self-driving prototypes in various pilot programs with partners such as Lyft, the ride services company in which rival General Motors Co (GM) owns a minority stake, and Domino’s Pizza.

However, Ford has still not decided whether to operate its own on-demand transportation service.

“Our team has been researching self-driving technology for more than a decade and when it came time to build out the business surrounding it, we put the customer at the centre of our thinking,” executive vice president Jim Farley said in a blog post.

“From the beginning, this drove the development of our production vehicle and technology. What this means is that we’re designing an all-new vehicle optimised for self-driving technology and the customers it will serve.”

He said the company is looking to test new business models that involve its self-driving vehicles, including the movement of people and goods.

Ford anticipates that many of the first vehicles to hit the roads with driverless technology will be in the form of taxis or other commercial applications, rather than privately owned cars.

Therefore, its first driverless models will be designed with “heavy-duty, high-mileage commercial operations” in mind and will feature components such as brakes, wheels and body structures that can withstand more extreme work cycles.

The vehicles will also undergo more rigid durability testing before they go on the road.

GM unveiled its own plans last week to introduce an on-demand ride-sharing service in several US cities in 2019, using self-driving versions of the battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt.

Ford is shifting production of a future battery electric vehicle to Mexico to free up capacity at its plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, to build the self-driving vehicles in 2021, according to spokesman Alan Hall.

The electric vehicle, whose more advanced battery system will enable a driving range over the 300-mile mark, will go into production in 2020 at Ford’s Cuatitlan plant, which suppliers say will also build a new hybrid crossover vehicle around the same time.

At the Flat Rock plant, Ford is boosting investment to $900m (£668m) from $700m and adding 850 jobs.

Both the 2020 electric and the 2021 self-driving vehicles will draw on the next-generation Ford Focus for some of their underbody structure and components while using different propulsion systems.

Unlike the full electric vehicle from Cuatitlan, the self-driving vehicle from Flat Rock will use a hybrid system with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, Hall said.

Earlier this week Fisker announced plans to launch a fully electric driverless shuttle bus, called Orbit next year. 

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