August 17, 2016

Ford promises fleets of driverless cars within five years

When it comes to driverless cars, the question is increasingly becoming 'when' not 'if' - and Ford Motor Company has provided an answer to the former. By 2021, Ford says it will have fleets of fully autonomous vehicles on the road.

The grand plan would radically change not only the vehicles we use, but the way in which we use them. The cars will be part of a ride-hailing service, according to Mark Fields, Ford’s chief executive, who addressed a recent news conference at the company’s research center in Palo Alto, California.

The move, which Fields described as a "seismic shift" in the car industry, could potentially lead to a future with far fewer car owners. Barclays analyst Brian Johnson, recently predicted that widespread use of autonomous vehicles could see auto sales fall by as much as 40 percent as people choose not to possess their own vehicles, the New York Times reports.

Tech Companies vs. Motor Companies

The machines themselves will be pretty radical, too.

"There’s going to be no steering wheel. There’s going to be no gas pedal. There’s going to be no brake pedal,’’ Fields said. “If someone had told you 10 years ago, or even five years ago, that the C.E.O. of a major automaker American car company is going to be announcing the mass production of fully autonomous vehicles, they would have been called crazy or nuts or both.”

Ford plans to double the size of its Palo Alto center in the near future, as traditional motor companies battle with tech companies for the future of cars.

Fields says that Ford now sees itself as not just a carmaker but a “mobility company", while other carmakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz are very interested in the concept of “transportation as a service,” as it is known, by starting their own ride-sharing services. General Motors has bought a stake in Lyft -Uber's main rival.

It's not just about competition, though - motor companies will need the help of tech companies going forward.

Ford has acquired an Israeli start-up called Saips that specializes in computer vision, a technology that's hugely important in autonomous vehicles. Other investments include one in a start-up with expertise in 3D digital maps

Plenty of investment, then - but how companies such as Ford will make serious money from driverless ride-hailing services remains to be seen.


Image credit: Ford