Ford is road testing its autonomous vehicles in partnership with the city of Miami, as the legacy automaker hopes to capitalize on the emerging technology in ride-share and business delivery.
The automaker has been testing a Ford Fusion equipped with autonomous vehicle tech, or AV, in Miami since February. It chose the city because of its congestion and the unpredictability of the traffic there. Tests are also being done in three other cities: Pittsburgh, Detroit and Washington, D.C.
Ford has said it plans to begin selling self-driving cars by 2021, but it is also testing out ways it can use these vehicles to carry people and things. Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, told CNBC the company is focused on profitability and scalability.
“We’re laser focused on profitability,” said Marakby, who said autonomous vehicles provide transportation at a lower cost than current vehicles. “While the vehicle is expensive, initially we’re deploying it in service so the cost per mile for transportation for a person or a business is going to be lower and will be profitable for us,” he said.
Ford has said it plans to invest a total of $4 billion into AV technology through 2023.
On Wednesday, the company announced a partnership with Walmart and Postmates to collaborate on a delivery service that will one day use autonomous vehicles.
During a test ride with CNBC, Ford used a car that was autonomous, however, it did travel along a predetermined and pre-programmed route. Ford also manned the vehicle with a safety driver, whose hands hovered over the wheel, which the company said was a “precaution.”
Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Alphabet, will launch its first AV service by the end of the year and expects to attract business customers. General Motors‘ Cruise says it will have an autonomous ride-share service by next year.
Some analysts have said Ford is lagging behind in self-driving technology, but Marakby pushed back on that notion.
“I want investors and I want everyone to know that we are developing an autonomous vehicle service that means a whole lot more than the car,” Marakby said. “What that means is … when we launch these cars it’s not just going to be the car. It’s going to be an app. It’s going to be the cloud … The autonomous car will know where to go when someone orders it.”
Ford is phasing out its manufacturing of most cars and increasing production of trucks and SUVs. Marakby said Ford’s ride-share vehicle will be designed for that business.
“We feel that what we’re building is an autonomous vehicle mobility service and we think the future is going to continue to have more and more of these transportation methods,” he said.