Self-Driving Ford Prototypes May Be on Their Way to Texas, Report Says

Ford is seeking to put an autonomous car into production in 2021.

Ford

Ford may soon deploy self-driving cars in Austin, according to a new report. The Texas capital would join cities like Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. as a testing location for Ford, which plans to launch a production autonomous car in 2021.

The news was first reported by TechCrunch, which cited an anonymous source familiar with the matter, as well as an Austin job listing for an autonomous-vehicle "market specialist." When asked by the website about Ford's plans, a spokesperson would only say that the automaker is "on track to announce the next deployment city" and that more details would be released "at the appropriate time."

Ford has taken a more pragmatic approach to deploying self-driving cars than rival companies. While others focus mostly on the vehicles themselves, Ford is trying to develop everything needed to make autonomous cars into a profitable business.

Rather than being sold to individual buyers, Ford's production self-driving car will be used in ride-hailing and delivery services. Other companies are planning similar uses; Waymo is already operating a ride-hailing service in Arizona. But Ford is looking at the more mundane things, from managing and maintaining a large fleet of vehicles to interacting with customers, needed to launch such services.

The Blue Oval has forged partnerships with Domino's, Postmates, and Walmart to test delivery services. It has even deployed fake autonomous cars to see how customers react to a delivery service that takes humans out of the loop. In Miami, Ford built a dedicated autonomous-vehicle terminal that could serve as a prototype for other facilities if self-driving cars do become mainstream.

If Ford deploys self-driving cars in Austin, it will likely follow a similar pattern to the cities where the test program already operates. That means using prototype autonomous cars in pilot delivery services, and having startup Argo AI map local roads to ensure smoother operations.

Ford faces plenty of competition from tech companies and other automakers, including its old rival General Motors. GM's Cruise autonomous-driving division is looking to double its staff and will soon launch a delivery pilot program with DoorDash.