Ford Planning More Partnerships With Startups on Driverless Cars

By Stephanie Beasley

Ford Motor Co. is planning to partner with more startup technology suppliers as it advances its “smart mobility” initiatives on autonomous cars and drones, Executive Chairman Bill Ford said.

Ford said that although the race between traditional automakers and technology companies to be the first to introduce driverless cars to the U.S. market had created tensions, the two industries have started working together. There has been a symbiosis over the past five years that no one would have predicted, he said at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting on Jan. 18.

Ford Motor Co. is a member of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, whose membership also includes Lyft Co., Uber Technologies Inc., Waymo and The Volvo Group. Bill Ford said he believes partnerships between automakers and tech companies will become the norm. Those partnerships could be critical to what he said would be the next stage in autonomous vehicle development: real-world data collection and data sharing.

“We’ve got to get more data on autonomy before it’s really ready for prime time,” he said.

Ride-sharing for the Masses

Ford Motor recently announced plans to introduce self-driving cars for commercial, ride-sharing use by 2021 and then to the public around 2025.

It’s probable that ride-sharing will be the way autonomous vehicles are initially introduced to most people in urban areas, Ford said. He added that introducing the cars through ride-sharing fleets could be instrumental in getting consumers to accept the new technology as well as reducing congestion in heavily populated areas.

“If all we do is put more autonomous vehicles on the road, we actually could be creating more gridlock,” Ford said. “Something like [crowd-sourcing rides for major events] does take vehicles off the road because you’re putting more people into a vehicle, but you’re doing it in an enjoyable way. By the way, it’s cheaper for them as well.”

Yet, Ford said that model was unlikely to replicated in rural areas, where it could take much longer for people to adopt autonomous vehicles and embrace “smart mobility” options intended to reduce congestion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Beasley in Washington at sbeasley@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.