Newly appointed Ford Motor CEO Jim Hackett admitted yesterday that demand for driverless transportation could take many different forms and that Ford was rethinking how it would tailor its cars and mobility services for self-drive modes of transportation in the future.
Speaking at the Cities of Tomorrow event Ford held yesterday, Hackett, who was reportedly wearing an Apple Watch and dressed in jeans, said Ford was challenged by trying to figure out how consumers will react to driverless vehicle business models when they become commercially available.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Hackett said driverless' "biggest leap is the nature of the human interpretation of using it."
If you think we're going to take the autonomous vehicle and just replace the station wagon, I don't believe that's what's going to happen. The AV will replace and do something that the station wagon can't do —not just drive itself — but other things...It's about aligning the technology to what the market wants it to do — is it a new station wagon or is it an Uber vehicle?
Hackett, who previously hailed from office furniture supplier Steelcase and played center on the University of Michigan's football team, was most recently head of Ford's Smart Mobility Division, which overseas Ford's autonomous driving activity.
One of Hackett's main missions since becoming CEO in May is to help the company take a more self-driving direction as a whole, as Ford hopes to meet its previously stated goal of offering Level 4 cars by 2021 that require no input from humans to go from point A to point B.
To that end, Ford agreed to invest $1 billion in the driverless car startup Argo AI earlier this year. It has also invested in leading LiDAR supplier Velodyne and ride-hailing startup Chariot.
Ford has been developing autonomous cars for over 10 years, but has said publicly Argo AI will play a key role in its plans to launch Level 4-capable vehicles commercially under a mobility services business model in 2021.
At least Ford is not imposing a business model of what the company thinks driverless transportation should be like in the future. In may respects, as Hackett said yesterday, Ford hopes to instead ready the technology that people want. The problem is that no one knows exactly what that will be.
Tesla released yet another over-the-air update for its Autopilot driverless mode this week. We cannot yet confirm that the update will offer any noticeable boosts in self-drive performance until we have tested it, but the new version of Autopilot has gradually improved over the course of the year so that the new version is now at least as good as the previous one. A feature the update offers that is not directly related to driverless is that Autopilot automatically dims Tesla Model S, X, and 3 high beams for oncoming cars on roads and highways at night.