Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford on Wednesday reiterated Ford’s philosophy when it comes to autonomous vehicles: don’t rush development, and put consumer needs before all else. While countless news organizations parrot the view that the technology is just around the corner, and some automakers release semi-autonomous systems that still require plenty of human intervention, Ford is taking the long view. Yes, it plans to introduce an SAE Level-4 autonomous vehicle in 2021, but that car won’t be available for purchase by consumers, and the automaker won’t bother with any semi-autonomous systems like Tesla’s Autopilot or Cadillac’s Super Cruise in the intervening time.
“There are so many elements to [autonomous vehicles],” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said Wednesday at the Fortune Global Forum in China. “You have to have smart cars, smart cities, we have to have a discussion somewhere about ethics and trust.
“It’s very easy to get captivated and fall in love with the tech but you have to take a step back and say to yourself, ‘Is this actually helping people, individual customers, and is it helping society?’”
Last August, Ford Director of Autonomous Vehicles Randy Visintainer said that the automaker would forego partially-autonomous systems because ensuring a smooth transition from computer- to human-control would be too complicated to make sense. Earlier this year, Bryan Salesky, co-founder and CEO of Ford autonomy partner Argo AI, wrote in an essay that “those who think fully self-driving vehicles will be ubiquitous… in a few years are not well connected to the state of the art or committed to the safe deployment of the technology.”
The consensus within Ford: rushing the technology to try and match the media’s anticipated timeline, or introducing partially-complete autonomous systems, could have grave consequences.
“People sort of play fast and loose with the [autonomous vehicle] stuff: ‘We’re going to have AVs on the road by X’, ‘We’re going to have AVs on the road by Y’,” Bill Ford said Wednesday. “I don’t want to play that game because it’s more important we get that right. It’s about trust.”