Ford plans driverless network 'at scale' by 2021

Ford plans driverless network 'at scale' by 2021

Ford plans to operate its own robo-taxi network “at scale” in 2021 to transport people and goods in the most ambitious details yet revealed by a carmaker for a driverless service.

Jim Farley, global markets president and joint-number two at the US carmaker, said the business planned to operate a network of custom-built vehicles itself, rather than sell its technology to a ride-hailing operator.

The group last year spent $1bn on AI start-up Argo to compete with Waymo and Uber as well as automotive rivals such as General Motors and Toyota in developing self-driving vehicles.

It is also trialling a service in Miami with Domino’s Pizza to hone its business model, such as offering consumers discounts to leave their apartment and walk out to a human-free delivery car.

Despite the recent fatality involving a self-driving Uber that was being tested, autonomous cars are intended to avoid accidents by eliminating human error. The technology also throws up potential new businesses such as robo-taxi fleets that may in time offset traditional car ownership in dense cities.

Uber has said that eliminating the cost of paying drivers is essential for its business model in the long run. Yet global carmakers are split over their approach to the new technology.

While Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover have struck deals to sell vehicles to driverless fleet operators Uber and Waymo, others such as General Motors and Renault-Nissan plan to run their own services.

“Our current thinking is that we’ll own the fleet, that we’ll operate the fleet,” Mr Farley told the Financial Times.

The group is testing self-driving vehicles in Miami in partnerships with Domino’s and logistics company Postmates.

“One of the most important parts of the test is the business model itself,” he said, to establish how revenue is split, how much consumers will pay for a self-driving delivery, and at what price the service is useful to customers such as logistics or delivery companies.

The company also plans to open its network to local small businesses to transport goods, Mr Farley said, a move that could pit it directly against local courier services.

Ford will use a new vehicle powered by hybrid technology and built to operate 20 hours a day when it launches its service in 2021. It will also carry people and cargo interchangeably, suggesting a larger vehicle such as Ford’s Transit range of vans.

It marks a key difference with GM, which has ambitions to launch its own self-driving service next year using a version of its electric Chevrolet Bolt car.

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance plans its own ride-hailing network in 2022, though has not yet given details of the vehicles it will use.

Ford is experimenting with mass-transit vehicles, and is running Chariot bus services using modified Transit vans in London and California.

The company is working towards deploying its vehicles at scale in 2021, an ambition that would require greater testing in the coming years.

“The key message from Ford is we’re not looking just to start then [in 2021]. We’re setting up the Miami business model now so that we can scale then,” said Mr Farley in an interview at the new Ford Focus launch in London last week.

The car is fitted with partial automation systems that will keep vehicles moving in slow traffic, as well as a 48 volt hybrid system that cuts fuel usage.

Published at Sun, 15 Apr 2018 15:13:47 +0000

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