For All Its Talk of Mobility, Ford Says It's Fine With FCA and GM Leading the Robocar Pack

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
for all its talk of mobility ford says its fine with fca and gm leading the robocar

If recent statements from Ford Motor Company were any indication, you’d think we were living in some futuristic society where our grandparents drove Nucleons and the need for a personal vehicle was almost nil. Yes, too much “mobility” talk gets under the skin.

That said, it’s Ford’s domestic rivals who are actually building and fielding production vehicles that drive themselves — and setting up businesses and partnerships that could make the automakers a bundle on the side. By next year, both General Motors and Fiat Chrysler could have self-driving vehicles roaming America, earning their companies money.

Be our guest, Ford claims. There’s bigger things to worry about.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, Sherif Marakby, said being first in the autonomous field is pointless if the venture doesn’t bring home the bacon.

“We certainly do not feel behind on getting to a profitable business,” Marakby said. “It’s a lot more than just a car and the software that goes into the car. We’re building a business. How we’re going to generate the revenue and profits matter more than just jumping in and running a business someplace.”

The past month brought big news for GM and FCA. GM’s self-driving vehicle division, Cruise, saw a $2.25 billion cash injection from Japan’s SoftBank to expedite autonomous Chevrolet Bolt production. (Much of the funding hinges on the ride-hailing service reaching the market next year.) Fiat Chrysler, which teamed up with Google subsidiary Waymo ages ago, saw an order for 62,000 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids for its partner’s ride-hailing business. This could be worth $2.5 billion for the automaker.

Already, there’s Waymo-operated minivans driving around in select test markets. Sometimes they have trouble merging. For both Cruise and Waymo, 2019 is the target year for public consumption. Ford’s autonomous offering isn’t expected until 2021.

This doesn’t mean the Blue Oval hasn’t left the starting line, as recent partnerships with Domino’s and Postmates say otherwise, but the company wants a standalone AV model designed from the ground up — not just a rejigged passenger car or van. The key to profitability is designing a multi-role vehicle that stays in service all day and night, Marakby claims.

“With ride-hailing there are peaks and valleys in the day, so we’re thinking about filling all the gaps, all the valleys, for these expensive assets,” the executive said. “You’ve got to focus on maximum utilization. We’re really laser focused on the ultimate goal of profitable miles and utilization to get to profitable AVs in 2021.”

Whether or not Ford’s plan is the more sensible solution, investors don’t seem that enthusiastic about what they’re hearing. The company’s stock has seen a little upward movement since February, but remains stubbornly depressed — especially when you consider Ford’s supposedly forward-thinking abandonment of all but one car model.

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3 of 5 comments
  • "scarey" "scarey" on Jun 11, 2018

    Wait until the case law is settled on the liability of a driverless car having a high-profile accident. Then the issue will either be more or less attractive for big potential players. Ford may not want to put the whole company on the line for an unknown risk/reward proposition.

  • Ronald Ronald on Jun 12, 2018

    "By next year, both General Motors and Fiat Chrysler could have self-driving vehicles roaming America, earning their companies money." Uh, no, they will not.

  • Dukeisduke Why the hell doesn't Farley just resign? Why hasn't Bill Ford fired him? I lay all this at Farley's feet.
  • Dukeisduke I tried watching the livestream (I'm a MT+ subscriber), but after 15 minutes of jawing by the presenters, I got bored and turned it off. I may watch it this weekend, when I can fast forward through that stuff, to get to the reveal.
  • Dukeisduke Electric power steering, I assume. First-gen Chevy Cruzes can suffer from similar issues, usually traceable to a flaky battery negative cable, a $10 OEM part. Weird, huh?
  • Kwik_Shift Once 15 Minute Cities start to be rolled out, you won't be far enough away from home to worry about range anxiety.
  • Bobbysirhan I'd like to look at all of the numbers. The eager sheep don't seem too upset about the $1,800 delta over home charging, suggesting that the total cost is truly obscene. Even spending Biden bucks, I don't need $1,800 of them to buy enough gasoline to cover 15,000 miles a year. Aren't expensive EVs supposed to make up for their initial expense, planet raping resource requirements, and the child slaves in the cobalt mines by saving money on energy? Stupid is as stupid does.