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

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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.

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