You can go on Ford’s website right now and find this exact statement: “Ford will have a fully autonomous vehicle in operation by 2021.”
It’s a lofty goal, to be certain, but to the less informed, it doesn’t seem impossible. After all, Ford has a ton of cash and all the necessary resources to throw at the self-driving car problem.
The reality is, though, that fully autonomous cars that can drive themselves 100% of the time will probably never be implemented en masse, and it seems that Ford CEO Jim Hackett is beginning to realize this.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Detroit Economic Club on Tuesday, Hackett admitted that he and other automotive industry experts “overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.”
The Ford CEO also downplayed expectations for automaker’s forthcoming “fully autonomous vehicle” at the event. This won’t be a car that you can just hop in and say “take me to x location.” It will be designed to operate within a very specific geographical area, as it is currently too hard to program an AV to operate in an environment it has not been programmed for.
“Its applications will be narrow, what we call geo-fenced, because the problem is so complex,” Hackett said.
It’s hard to be “fully” autonomous with such limitations in place, so perhaps we should call Ford’s 2021 effort “partially fully autonomous” for now?
The automaker had a slightly different stance with regard to the viability of AVs in January of last year. During a keynote address at CES 2018, Ford vice president of capital markets Jim Farley indicated that the self-driving car set to arrive for 2021 will quickly lead to an autonomous vehicle business for Ford.
“The work we’re doing (in 2018) will put us in a position to scale quickly with a self-driving business in 2021 that prioritizes the human experience,” Farley said.
It’s not clear how the automaker plans to make money with the geofenced AV at this time.
Late last year, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said that AVs that can drive themselves on any road, in any weather and at any time of the day may never happen. He also acknowledged that it may be decades before automakers can put them on public roads in very large numbers. Waymo, an offshoot of Google, is believed to be the industry leader in AV development, having racked up more mileage than any other self-driving company.