Ford outlines plan to build self-driving cars at scale to deploy with partners

Ford’s autonomous driving vision includes fleet manufacturing, and then deploying vehicles at scale with partners working in commercial service areas like taxi and delivery. The core of this plan starts with building cars tailor-made to “improve the movement of people and goods,” according to Ford VP of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification Sherif Markaby.

Marakby, freshly returned to Ford after a stint at Uber where he worked on the ride hailing company’s autonomous program, articulated Ford’s self-driving plan in broad strokes in a new Medium post on Tuesday. The resulting document is probably the most succinct and complete articulation of Ford’s autonomous vision thus far, which is noteworthy given that the automaker has previously announced plans to field an autonomous driving service launch by 2021.

Ford’s aiming to create a vehicle it can build at scale that not only is capable of autonomy, but that can also serve in both taxi and delivery businesses, and it says its existing experience working with enterprises in both those fields on fleet development and use-specific vehicle manufacturing will help it gain an edge in this regard.

Marakby notes that the focus will be on making sure the vehicles it brings to market for this task will be designed specifically to be able to maximize utilization time, which means boosting the time they can spend on the road between refuelings. To that end, they’re looking at hybrid-electrics out of the gate, since Ford has ample experience in that area and it’s the best compromise in terms of available tech and maximum range.

The post also says that Ford’s Palo Alto-based Greenfield Labs is looking to make sure that the vehicle design is “human-centric,” which is to say that they’re talking with their potential service deployment partners to find out what makes the most sense in terms of adding capabilities and features that can give vehicles advantages over current human-driven ones in terms of performing their desired function, whether it be moving people or goods.

Ford’s plan is to start with autonomous fleet services, and these will likely operate in very specific, limited areas with high demand and extensive, detailed route mapping. The details of the final vehicle are of definite interest, so here’s hoping they’re ready to reveal more about the car they plan to build at scale soon.