Ford is changing the focus its self-driving car platform as early as next year. The company says it now plans to focus on features beyond just enabling a computer system to drive from point A to B.
The company's president of global markets Jim Farley wrote about the new developments in a Medium post, in which he emphasized Ford's devotion to the customer as the main concern for its autonomous plans. More specifically, Farley wrote that Ford is dedicated to establishing systems that will prioritize the movement of people and goods, hinting at plans for commercial fleets and ride-hailing services that align with the company's existing deals and partnerships.
The automaker's plans include a brand new self-driving vehicle design that eschews the hockey puck-sized LiDAR units mounted near the side-view mirrors seen last December for a less obtrusive roof-mounted sensor unit. Ford will test the new design in an undisclosed city starting next year, according to a report from Reuters.
Farley said that the new design is built around four core tenets. The autonomous tech is meant to serve commercial grade clients, like taxi forces (like Lyft, a Ford partner) and government organizations, it will utilize hybrid fuel systems for extended range, it will be designed to foster positive relationships with the public, and it will be built with safety and dependability as its major guide points.
Ford plans to begin production on the new AVs in its Flat Rock, Michigan plant in 2021, a Ford spokesman told Reuters. Planned battery work for electric vehicles will be shifted to a plant in Mexico, with the project commencing in 2020.
The announcements come at the tail end of a year Ford in which has moved aggressively to strengthen its self-driving program. The automaker invested around a billion dollars in startup Argo AI to lead the charge back in February, promoted the head of its autonomous program, Jim Hackett, to CEO, in May, and partnered with companies like Lyft and Domino's to explore the best ways to put the vehicles out on the road.
Some of these developments led Navigant Research to name Ford the top company in the self-driving development space, tabbing it as a favorite to be the first company to actually bring the technology to the public in a meaningful way — so doubling down on the consumer as a strategy could be a good move for Ford to hold its position at the head of the pack.