Just five years from now, CEO Mark Fields and other Ford executives made clear in a whirlwind of media appearances, interviews, a press conference and a call with analysts yesterday, it will have a fleet of vehicles navigating highways and byways without steering wheels, brakes or gas pedals.
“Our view is autonomous vehicles could have just have as significant of an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” Fields told Phil LeBeau in a morning appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box.”
“If someone had told you 10 years ago, or even five years ago, that the CEO of a major automaker American car company is going to be announcing the mass production of fully autonomous vehicles, they would have been called crazy or nuts or both,” Fields said at a press conference in Palo Alto,” the New York Times’ Neal E. Boudette reports.
“It’s now clear that the next decade is going to be defined by the automation of the automobile,” Fields told an very-engaged audience at its Silicon Valley research center — as well as more than 200,000 other team members “beaming in” from around the world (and about 5,000 other interested observers catching up on YouTube).
Ford will be doubling its staff in Palo Alto to more than 300 employees, “expanding its offices and labs in that city, and signing new partnerships with companies that are developing technology for self-driving cars,” LeBeau reports, as Fields continues “to reposition Ford into a full-fledged mobility company.”
“Fields wanted there to be no doubt Tuesday that the Dearborn automaker is absolutely not behind competitors in the development of self-driving vehicles,” the Free Press’ Brent Snavely writes. “In fact, Ford hinted it could be ahead of some competitors but — at least until now — has chosen to keep much of its progress to itself.”
“We are not in a race to make announcements,” Fields told Snavely. “We are in a race to do what’s right for our business.”
But for all the high-falutin’ targets and promises, “in fact, the real transformation will occur when Ford delivers on its plans, or when another company beats it to the punch. All of the major automakers are working on such technology,” point out Russ Mitchell and Samantha Masunaga in the Los Angeles Times. “So is Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and, possibly, Apple. Earlier this year, General Motors bought an autonomous car start-up, Cruise Automation, and announced it would work with Lyft, which GM partly owns, to develop driverless taxis.”
Ford itself will “initially target ride-sharing fleets and package-delivery services with the unnamed model, underscoring the still-incremental approach many car companies are taking before offering vehicles to consumers that don’t require humans behind the wheel,” Christina Rogers reports in the Wall Street Journal.
“The carmaker said in a later investor call that it expected to first roll out the driverless vehicles in big cities. The cars would most-likely be hybrids rather than full electric vehicles or cars with a conventional internal combustion engine, to ensure range and minimize downtime needed for recharging,” Peter Campbell and Patti Waldmeir report for Financial Times.
“Fields said the self-driving technology will likely be too expensive for individual ownership, at least for the first half of the decade,” writesRecode’s Johana Bhuiyan. “… When you look at ride-hailing services and you look at the economics of that business, the biggest cost is the cost [of] the driver. When you take that element out, it not only restructures the cost of the ride-hailing service, but the cost to the consumer ultimately comes down.”
Ford also “has announced a number of investments it hopes will give it the edge over its rivals,” the Irish Timesreports. “The company has bought Israeli machine learning company SAIPS, as well as investing $75 million in laser-based driverless system company Velodyne Lidar, and forming an exclusive deal with vision processing group Nirenberg Neuroscience.”
Barclays analyst Brian Johnson “recently predicted that once autonomous vehicles are in widespread use, auto sales could fall as much as 40% as people rely on such services for transportation and choose not to own cars,” the NYT’s Boudette reports.
“These technocrats just don't get it,” reads one comment below Ford’s YouTube video of Field’s Silicon Valley presentation, no doubt reflecting the views of many. “The whole thing about owning a nice car is the fun of driving it.”
Yes, yes. Somebody somewhere once said the same thing about riding a horse.