In July, Ford Motor Company (FMC) announced they had created a new company with a separate governance Board to focus on autonomous vehicles. The company name: Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC (FAV) – no confusion about what they plan to do then, is there!
It will be headed by Sherif Marakby, an FMC Vice President who had spent a year at Uber on their autonomous vehicle systems. The Board Chairwoman is Marcy Klevorn, FMC’s President of Mobility. Klevorn and Marakby have been tasked with delivering on FMC’s promise of a self-driving commercial vehicle by 2021, which is still a big task to complete.
The parent company also said that they expect to have invested over $4B in autonomous vehicle research and development by 2023. FMC also spoke about a new site in Corktown they are developing. Corktown is close by the Detroit River and very close to the Downtown area. This new property will house the FAV business along with Team Edison, FMC’s electric car business. Earlier this year, FMC announced it was buying Michigan Central Station, near Corktown, to become a hub for new technologies.
FAV will cover all aspects of the autonomous vehicle business which means the overall strategy, the development of all electronic systems, the method of selling the end products and the design of the first vehicles. What is also interesting are the types of commercial agreements that they will investigate, one of which is a “vehicle-as-a-service” or subscription payments to use one of the vehicles.
FMC has clearly seen the connection between consumer & commercial technologies with the future of personal transportation, something that Motoring Weekly has written about before. In the announcement linked here, FMC also talks about the modular design concept that would have been based on the VW design to be used for future vehicles. This means that 70% of vehicles will be standardised into modules, such that designers and engineers can mix and match blocks of components to achieve the basic functions with the other 30% being the external design features to give each vehicle a different look albeit with family resemblances.
FAV will still be separate from Ford Smart Mobility LLC, another entity inside the Ford group, which is odd. I would have thought that this would be a perfect fit for FAV who will however, assume control of the stake in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup, that FMC already had. FMC has committed $1B to Argo AI for that stake.
This is an exciting time for the industry. All major vehicle manufacturing groups are looking at the same concepts: electric vehicles and also autonomous vehicles. I can understand electric as a power source, although as this blog has said many times before, these vehicles are going to be hit with taxes in the next few years as the excise on carbon fuels dwindles.
I still don’t see the social benefits of autonomous vehicles, sure, every logistics company would love to have their deliveries sent via a robotic car. However, how do you get the package the last 50-100 metres? Will the deliveries all be sent to local post offices instead? With no driver, there is no human so no job. That’s nice for reducing costs but not nice for the economy.
If everyone bought an autonomous car, cities would still have traffic jams and I still don’t have the gut feel that they are going to be any better than public transport. The only thing I can see happening will be even less human interaction and connection as people confine themselves to their own personal pod.
If autonomous and electric vehicles become the norm, let’s see how long FAV and the other sub-entities in Ford last before being rolled back into the core business.