Ford Autonomous Vehicle Exec Outlines the Carmaker's Self-Driving Car Strategy

The focus will be on ride-sharing and delivery surfaces—at least initially.

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JIM WATSON—AFP/Getty Images

Last year, Ford announced plans for a fully-autonomous production car by 2021, but CEO Jim Hackett appeared to walk that promise back in a recent interview. Now the head of Ford's self-driving car program is attempting the clarify the company's plans. Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president, autonomous vehicles and electrification, sketched out the company's self-driving car plans in a Medium post on Tuesday. 

Notably absent is any mention of the 2021 deadline, although everything else echoes previous statements made by Ford executives.

Ford will "develop and manufacture self-driving vehicles at scale," Marakby said, and will focus on ride-sharing and delivery services initially. The automaker previously said that its first self-driving car would be used exclusively by ride-sharing services, with consumer sales a possibility later on. Ford will partner with third-party ride-sharing and delivery companies to deploy the cars, Marakby said.

As previously stated by Ford, the initial self-driving car will be a hybrid. Marakby said Ford wants to emphasize both utilization rates and the amount of time the car can spend on the road, and that fuel efficiency is an important component of that. The high-voltage electrical system of a hybrid may also make packaging a self-driving cars' various sensors, computers, and other electronics easier. Ford already uses a fleet of Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids as autonomous test mules.

Engineers are also taking a "human-centered design approach," Marakby said.

"We're working to ensure that our application of self-driving technology enhances, rather than disrupts, what people most value about the services available to them today so we can ensure that our self-driving technology makes lives better tomorrow," he said.

The pace at which Ford will implement this vision of the future remains unclear. Even if the company sticks to its 2021 deadline (which was announced under the company's previous CEO, Mark Fields), a self-driving car launch could be limited to a handful of vehicles in specific areas. We'll be keeping an ear to the ground for those details over the coming years.