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Are Ford’s Autonomous Vehicle Plans Realistic but Too Slow?

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Changing scenario

In 2016, Ford Motor (F) began testing its AV (autonomous vehicle) technology with a fleet of Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans. In August 2016, Ford’s then CEO Mark Fields revealed his intentions to begin mass producing SAE level 4 AVs for ride-sharing services. Since then, a lot has changed for the company as well as for the auto industry.

In May 2017, Mark Fields was replaced with Jim Hackett as Ford’s CEO, and Ford’s peer General Motors (GM) accelerated its plan to develop AV technology to take on Ford’s plan to mass produce AVs.

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Change in the plan?

In May 2017, when Hackett became the CEO, two of his key challenges were reviving Ford’s profitability and regaining investor confidence. In August 2017, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Hackett said autonomous vehicles “will be a progressive thing, just like computing.” While commenting on Ford’s 2021 deadline, he also suggested that fully autonomous vehicles that can handle all driving conditions in any type of weather could take longer to hit the roads than 2021.

Ford in the AV segment

In a strategic update session in October 2017, Hackett emphasized Ford’s plan to build a strong EV (electric vehicle) portfolio in the coming years. He suggested that the company has already increased the development of autonomous vehicles in 2017 with a focus on personal mobility. Hackett’s strategic update letter also highlighted Ford’s collaboration with Lyft and its Domino’s pizza delivery experiment.

However, the timeline for Ford’s plan to begin mass production of AVs is still uncertain. Ford’s direct peer GM has already announced plans to commercialize its GM Cruise AV in 2019. According to GM, the AV will not require any driver or have any pedals, steering wheel, or manual controls. Other auto giants (XLY), including Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) and Tesla (TSLA), have also sped up their AV development in the last two years.

In the next part, we’ll take a look at Tesla’s position in the AV segment.

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