Ford has said it will launch a production self-driving car in 2021 aimed at ride-hailing and delivery services, but hasn't previously specified exactly how big the launch will be. Now it seems that Ford is going big. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Ford president of global markets Jim Farley said the rollout of autonomous cars and related services will happen "at scale" in 2021.
The automaker recently launched an autonomous-car pilot program in Miami, and this will allow Ford to hit the ground running when self-driving cars start rolling off assembly lines, Farley said. The pilot program uses prototype autonomous cars as delivery vehicles for Domino's and Postmates, and tests procedures for fleet management and maintenance.
Farley also said that Ford will "own the fleet" and operate services itself. This contrasts with the approach of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo, which seem content supplying vehicles to other companies. However, Ford's eternal rival, General Motors, plans to operate its own autonomous ride-hailing service. By keeping services in-house, Ford and GM are positioning themselves as direct competitors to tech companies like Uber, Lyft, and Waymo, rather than just hardware suppliers.
While the company has discussed using self-driving cars in ride-hailing services, Ford's efforts so far have focused on delivery services. This may be an easier path toward commercialization since it doesn't require people to actually ride in autonomous vehicles. Despite the gung-ho attitude of automakers and tech companies, recent studies indicate the public may be hesitant to trust self-driving cars.
Regardless of what business Ford uses its autonomous vehicles for, owning the fleet will act as a hedge against a potential erosion of new-car sales. The combination of autonomous driving and sharing services is expected to have a much bigger impact on the automotive landscape than either factor could have on its own. But if car sales dry up, Ford could shift its focus to ride-hailing and delivery services. As a vehicle manufacturer, the Blue Oval would have an advantage over tech companies buying vehicles from suppliers.