Ford CEO Jim Hackett Takes a More Realistic Approach to the Self-Driving Car Timeline

But when will Ford's fully-autonomous car actually hit the road?

Ford is accelerating testing of its Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle as the first automaker to test a fully autonomous vehicle at Mcity, the world’s first full-scale simulated urban environment at University of Michigan.
Ford

Ford is reviewing its self-driving car plans, and that could include pushing back the planned launch of its first fully-autonomous production car beyond 2021, Ford CEO Jim Hackett indicated in a recent interview.

Under previous CEO Mark Fields, Ford promised to launch an autonomous car with no manual controls in 2021, although the company said it would only be available to ride-sharing services. But in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle Hackett, who replaced Fields in May, took a more measured tone.

"It will be a progressive thing, just like computing," Hackett said. "If you think about a vehicle that can drive anywhere, anytime, in any circumstance, cold, rain—that's longer than 2021. And every manufacturer would tell you that."

Hackett also indicated that self-driving cars won't completely replace human drivers, and that shared fleets won't do away with private car ownership. Again, both positions are more measured than much of the previous rhetoric from automakers, tech companies, and industry analysts, which tend to view the combination of self-driving cars and ride sharing as a powerful—and inevitable—disruptive force.

When asked whether he expects a complete shift to self-driving cars, or whether people will continue to be able to own drive and drive their own cars, Hackett replied, "it's the latter."

"We don't know that autonomous vehicle intelligence in the future will all be delegated to a service that no one owns but everyone uses," Hackett said. "It could play a role in vehicles that people own, vehicles that aren't supposed to crash. You're buying the capability because of the protection it gives you. It's also possible it could be applied in these big, disruptive ways that of course we're not blind to, but my bet is we don't know."

Ford will have to keep pushing development of autonomous cars, if for no other reason than to keep up with its rivals. But Hackett's more sensible attitude may be just what Ford needs to keep things in perspective.