A statement on Ford’s website declares: “Ford will have a fully autonomous vehicle in operation by 2021.” A lofty goal and feasible too, however reality doesn’t seem close to this declaration as of now and Jim Hackett Ford CEO is probably downplaying this statement.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Detroit Economic Club on Tuesday, Jim Hackett admitted that he and other automotive industry experts overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles. “We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” he said at a Detroit Economic Club event. While Ford’s first self-driving car is still coming in 2021, “its applications will be narrow, what we call geo-fenced, because the problem is so complex.” He said.
Bloomberg reported Hackett saying that this won’t be a car that you can just hop in and say “take me to x location.” It will be programmed to operate within a very specific geographical area, since it is currently quite difficult to program an AV to operate in an environment it has not been pre-programmed for. There was no clarity on how the automaker plans to make money with the geo-fenced AV at this point in time.
Ford had quite a different take with regard to the viability of AVs in January of last year. During a keynote address at CES 2018, Ford vice president of capital markets Jim Farley indicated that the self-driving car set to arrive for 2021 will lead to an autonomous vehicle business for Ford. “The work we’re doing (in 2018) will put us in a position to scale quickly with a self-driving business in 2021 that prioritizes the human experience,” Farley had said.
Ford had earlier invested $900 million to build electric and self-driving cars in Michigan and $1 billion on two factories in Chicago to build Explorer SUVs. Hackett is also believed to be in talks with Volkswagen AG to jointly develop electric vehicles and driverless cars. The two automakers have already joined forces to build commercial vans and trucks.
“When we bring this thing to market, it’s going to be really powerful,” Hackett said adding, “There’s probably going to be alliance partners that we haven’t announced yet that will make it more certain that we don’t take on all the risks ourselves financially. When we break through, it will change the way your toothpaste is delivered. Logistics and ride structures and cities all get redesigned. I won’t be in charge of Ford when this is going on, but I see it clearly.”
Others might not be so sure though, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said around late last year that AVs that can drive themselves on any road, in any weather and at any time of the day may never happen. He also acknowledged that it may be decades before automakers can put them on public roads in very large numbers.