The Ford Model Fee
Seeking to replicate the success of its legendary Model T, the American automaker hopes to bring driverless vehicle transportation to the masses
MORE THAN A CENTURY SINCE SELLING THE
world’s first affordable, mass-produced automobile, the Ford Motor Company is embarking on what’s likely to be the biggest shift ever in the company’s history—and the biggest announced by the major North American automakers so far. This year, both Fiat Chrysler and GM, Ford’s chief North American competitors, signaled their intentions to explore the autonomous vehicle market through incremental driver-assist technologies, announcing partnerships with Google and Lyft, respectively. But Ford’s announcement in August that it would abandon this steppingstone approach and put its own fleet of completely driverless hybrid vehicles—without steering wheels, gas or brake pedals—on the road by 2021 was important for another reason.
Ford’s first fully autonomous vehicles will not be available to consumers at all—at least not in the traditional sense. The company is staking its future success not on selling cars but on selling travel through ridesharing. “Today, we’re no longer just an auto company, we’re also a mobility company,” Ford CEO Mark Fields announced from the company’s Silicon Valley research center. It’s a revolutionary shift in the company’s business model and will likely mean fewer units sold, but more mileage demands over the lifespan of those units. And if Ford eventually pivots its autonomous vehicle division away from the purely ridesharing market, the move could open up the door to a world of new customers. Because the new Fords will be fully autonomous, they likely will not require the presence of a licensed driver, making them accessible to anyone. Ford didn’t invent the driverless car anymore than it invented the automobile. But it’s intent on being the company that brings them to the masses.