Ford is spend­ing BIL­LIONS to in­tro­duce a fleet of self-driv­ing cars—even as driv­ers are still its BEST CUS­TOMERS


Build­ing cars that can drive them­selves through busy down­town streets safely and ef­fi­ciently is above all a stag­ger­ing achieve­ment in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, which is why tech com­pa­nies were first off the mark to de­velop them. Tra­di­tional car man­u­fac­tur­ers are now spend­ing bil­lions to catch up, hop­ing that their well-known brands will give them an edge. Ford, which plans to roll out a fleet of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles in 2021, ranked No. 1 in Newsweek’s sur­vey of au­to­mo­bile brands (see page 36). We caught up with CEO Jim Hack­ett in Mi­ami in Novem­ber to talk about Ford and the fu­ture of trans­porta­tion.

You’re now call­ing Ford a “mo­bil­ity com­pany.” What does that mean?

Henry Ford brought us mo­bil­ity. But for the first time in his­tory, you’ve got the con­flu­ence of tech­nol­ogy that will let the ve­hi­cle drive it­self, the abil­ity for the ve­hi­cles to com­mu­ni­cate with each other and all talk to the cloud. The cities will also com­mu­ni­cate with the cloud, which then con­nects with the ve­hi­cles in ways that ac­tu­ally help chore­o­graph traf­fic.

Is the ad­vent of driver­less cars as big a change as the Model T?

It is. Some peo­ple es­ti­mate that the whole sys­tem of ve­hi­cles, trans­porta­tion and co­or­di­na­tion will cost $10 tril­lion. That’s half the GDP of the U.S. to­day. So it’s a re­ally big op­por­tu­nity.

What is your vi­sion of trans­porta­tion 10, 20 or 50 years from now?

We think the streets now come back to peo­ple. We’ve done mod­els where, be­cause of the way you can chore­o­graph the trans­porta­tion sys­tem, peo­ple in life ac­tu­ally spill back into the ar­eas where they’ve been taken away. That is what will make cities more liv­able, be­cause they’re de­signed around what hu­mans crave most.

City plan­ners say that traf­fic and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems will only get worse if, in­stead of shar­ing, peo­ple opt to own their own au­ton­o­mous cars.

>I don’t think it’s go­ing to make things worse. More peo­ple are go­ing to live in cities in the next 20 years than they ever have in his­tory. The only way the cities are go­ing to work is if there’s shared trans­porta­tion. There’s just not enough places to park ev­ery­thing. But that’s dif­fer­ent than say­ing ev­ery­body’s go­ing to give up their car.

Will there be dif­fer­ent pat­terns of own­er­ship in the city ver­sus the sub­urbs?

It’s pos­si­ble. I think we’re ahead in fore­cast­ing this—that peo­ple won’t have as many ve­hi­cles be­cause they’ll share one and own one.

Does this mean Ford will sell fewer cars?

The way to think about it is, we’re go­ing to be trans­port­ing more peo­ple. The mar­ket op­por­tu­nity is enor­mous just be­cause of the size of these pop­u­la­tions.

When peo­ple think of Ford, they think of cars they can buy and drive. How will the Ford brand trans­late to cars that drive them­selves?

We think it’s a per­fect ex­ten­sion of Ford—the no­tion of trans­porta­tion, of peo­ple mov­ing and of ob­jects that have to be de­signed for safety, high per­for­mance and joy. Peo­ple love to be in ve­hi­cles. I’m of­ten asked, “Does this mean we’re get­ting rid of driv­ers for­ever?” We don’t know that. It may be that [au­ton­o­mous] ve­hi­cles just keep you from crash­ing, [but] you still con­trol the way that you’re nav­i­gat­ing through a city. I think there’s some­thing to that, be­cause peo­ple like to have a sense of con­trol.

Will driv­ing your own car—a Mus­tang, say—one day be a lux­ury that few can af­ford?

We’re plan­ning on lever­ag­ing peo­ple car­ing about more than just mov­ing from Point A to Point B. They love the sound of the Mus­tang. They love driv­ing it. That’s not go­ing to go away.

So cars will still have hu­mans at the wheel?

There’s ev­i­dence that peo­ple re­ally love driv­ing. Per­son­ally, in my last hour of work, when com­ing home on I-94, I de­com­press. I en­joy the drive home.

What car do you drive?

I’m driv­ing an F-150, the No. 1 ve­hi­cle in the world.

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