This summer, Ford decided to spin out its budding self-driving car program into its own business. During a recent interview on The Vergecast, Ford AV CEO Sherif Marakby shared his vision for the automaker’s autonomous push, including a few new details about the status of the company’s first dedicated self-driving car, which is due out in 2021.
That car is supposed to be the linchpin of a fully autonomous shuttle and cargo service that will launch the same year, and it’s already past the design and clay modeling phase, Marakby said. And it’s most likely going to resemble something more like an SUV than the Fusion sedans Ford is currently using to test its self-driving technology in cities like Miami and Pittsburgh.
“When you’re talking about moving people or moving goods, you can envision more of a … open, high roof, easy entry / exit type of vehicle,” Marakby said in the interview. In other words: bigger is better.
That’s not all too surprising to hear from Ford, which announced earlier this year that it planned to whittle down its vehicle lineup to just two sedans in the United States going forward. (Besides, the auto industry is largely favoring SUVs and trucks, thanks to a boom in sales in those categories.) That news was shortly followed by the announcement that Ford will actually just sell one sedan — the Mustang — in the US in the future, thanks to the financial effects of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, which is where the company’s other remaining sedan (the Focus) is being made.
In the interview, Marakby — who left Ford for a few years to help run Uber’s self-driving program — also shared some of the thinking behind the automaker’s decision to create an autonomous car from the ground up instead of retrofitting or altering the design of an existing vehicle. (Like what GM is doing with its fully autonomous Chevy Bolt.) One major factor? Sheer durability, Marakby said. The vehicle has to be durable for “hundreds of thousands of miles,” he said, since it will have to run throughout the day in order to turn a profit. And while the industry is focused on promoting all-electric cars at the moment, Marakby explained why Ford thinks its first autonomous vehicles should be hybrids.
Marakby also spoke about why Ford got into autonomous vehicles in the first place, offered some insight into what has — and hasn’t — worked during the company’s early trials in cities like Miami, and shared his thoughts about what the user experience might be like when it comes to ordering a Ford self-driving car in 2021.