Ford’s Autonomous Driving Effort Doesn’t End at Pizza Delivery
Earlier this week, we griped about Ford Motor Company’s market research into the validity of self-driving pizza delivery vehicles. Thankfully, that’s not the sole avenue the automaker is exploring. Since abandoning Uber Technologies’ self-driving program in April, Ford’s newÂ vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, Sherif Marakby, has spent the summer seekingÂ partners that might want to put autonomous vehicles on the road in the near future.
Meanwhile,Â Ford chief executive Jim Hackett, who took over in May, is conducting aÂ review of the automaker’s overall strategy, including the heavy investments made into electric and self-driving vehicles that took place under former CEO Mark Fields. While it’s unknown how viable he’ll deem every aspect of company’s Fieldsian mobility plan, early assessments hint he’ll leave Marakby plenty to work with.Â
â€Weâ€™ve been talking with different partners in different industries about potential applications for Fordâ€™s first self-driving vehicle in 2021, including ride-sharing and delivery services,â€ Marakby told Reuters.
Ford is alreadyÂ using Transit vans in an “on-demand” shuttle service it callsÂ Chariot â€” a company it purchasedÂ in 2016 for a reported $65 million.
While ChariotÂ only exists in a handful of U.S. cities, it’s similar to Uber’s own ride-hailing services and serves as a learning opportunity as the manufacturerÂ ventures into territory beyond that of a traditional automaker. It’s also assumed to exist as a way for Ford to test its self-driving systems in an urban environment using a fairly predictable route.Â Shuttling currently costs $4 per ride, which is about $1.25 more than a single one-way ride on a cramped New York City subway or bus.Â The company plans to have 60 vehicles operating in Manhattan and BrooklynÂ by fall, serving underserved portions of the city.
“With Ford, we can scale operations really, really quickly,” Chariot CEO Ali Vahabzadeh told reporters last month.
The initial plan for was for Ford to place some of its autonomous vehicles into commercial ride-sharing fleets for testing by 2021,Â including Chariot. However, it’s one of theÂ investmentsÂ Hackett has placed under review, so the timing could change.
Meanwhile,Â Marakby has outlined delivery services as Ford’s other preliminary autonomous venture. While the company doesn’t produce largeÂ commercial trucks, which would be among the most useful applications for self-driving tech, it does have commercial vans.
â€œTo build the business, weâ€™re focusing on goods and people. We see opportunity in both,â€ Marakby told Forbes. â€œWe’re planning both commercial operation and the ride-hailing service in 2021.â€
Some of Ford’s rivals have announced plans to share much of the autonomous engineering cost by partnering with other companies. But the Blue Oval anticipates doing most of its own systems integration work. It still has to outsource portions of its self-driving hardware, but its own Argo AI will handle the “virtual driver” software.
“We’re developing the technology and the [customer] interfaces to go to market directly with our partners,” Marakby said. “We’re open to other arrangements in the future.”
[Images: Ford Motor Company]
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September 2, 2017 at 11:03AM