While the new tech upstarts like Google and Uber receive most of the press when it comes to self-driving cars, the established giants of the auto industry are just as busy preparing to unleash hordes of autonomous robo-cars on the public. GM is preparing to take steering wheels out of their vehicles as soon as 2019, while Ford has patented a terrifying-sounding autonomous police vehicle which could begin patrolling the streets of Detroit Robocop-style in the next few years. In fact, Ford predicts that they could be running their own self-driving car network will “at scale” in 2021. What exactly will that mean for both America’s second-largest automaker and American drivers?
Ford Executive Vice President Jim Farley made the prediction in an interview with the Financial Times, noting that his company has already been testing the network in Miami so that the 2021 roll-out will be seamless. For now, Ford has its sights set on the delivery and cargo market, although Farley noted that the network will eventually be able to “carry people and cargo interchangeably,” so for now it’s unclear exactly what vehicles will be part of the network.
One important point to note about Ford’s planned network of self-driving vehicles is that Ford will own the fleet, meaning it will not merely license its products out to other self-driving companies or sell its vehicles to third-party fleets. In some ways, Ford is pioneering a new future for automakers, a future in which fewer individuals have to own their own cars due to the presence of fleets of hailable autonomous vehicles.
For the last several years, Ford’s leadership has signaled that they will seek a future “beyond car ownership” where automakers have to adapt by operating autonomous fleets. Will self-driving vehicles enable Ford to finally outsell GM vehicles in the United States? Maybe if they keep the steering wheels in the cars. Nobody wants to ride in an uncontrollable death trap, GM.