Colm Boran, manager of autonomous vehicle platform research and advanced engineering for Ford, told CarAdvice at CES 2017 that the company’s first autonomous car will be primarily for fleets, but confirmed a version that consumers can buy will happen… but wouldn’t clarify when it would happen.
“Not in 2021,” he said. “But maybe thereafter, as it makes sense for us.”
“This stuff isn’t that cheap at the moment – if you think about a ride-sharing service where you’ve got to pay a human driver, as a taxi fleet owner you can make sense of the equation that you pay a bit more for the car,” he said.
The distinct difference between the plan of Ford (no steering wheel, no pedals, not for sale, autonomy level four) and Mercedes-Benz (steering wheel, pedals, likely optional on next-generation S-Class, autonomy level four) was a point put forward by us. Boran rebutted it logically.
“We’re not really competing in the same fields,” he said. “In the typical Ford portfolio, we’re not competing with S-Class.”
It seems highly likely that Ford will launch its own ride hailing service to make the most out of its autonomous vehicle fleet. The vehicles will be driverless, located in a central hub where they can be summoned to pick riders up, take them where they need to go, and then move to the next job.
They are, essentially, robot taxis, and they will initially be restricted to built-up urban areas, likely in the US and Europe.
That’s not to say that Ford won’t sell the cars to fleet companies, because as Boran suggests, there’s a monetary benefit in doing so.
“We’re eliminating that wage of that human driver, so there’s a financial reason for [fleet buyers] to purchase a car that’s capable of that,” he said.