Building a Business Enabled by Self-Driving Technology

By Sherif Marakby, Ford Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification

We’re spending a lot of time these days thinking about the future and what it will take to create the City of Tomorrow. We know that one key ingredient for delivering our vision of the future is self-driving vehicles. We also know the technology has the potential to have a profound impact, but it’s time to look beyond the potential and talk about how it can be applied in helpful ways to create a viable business.

We’re developing self-driving technology because the world is changing rapidly. For many people who live in large cities, owning a car is no longer a viable choice. Ride sharing and hailing is on the rise, and shopping at malls is giving way to buying online, which is increasing package delivery services. Therefore, we’re building a business to capitalize on both of these trends. We plan to develop and manufacture self-driving vehicles at scale, deployed in cooperation with multiple partners, and with a customer experience based on human-centered design principles.

By starting with a self-driving vehicle designed to improve the movement of people and goods, we intend to ensure it offers both comfort for passengers yet be suitable for carrying packages. Some aspects of this self-driving vehicle business we are creating will be new for us, while other parts will be familiar.

Our team has decades of experience developing and manufacturing vehicles that serve commercial operations such as taxi and delivery businesses. That extensive experience and those existing relationships are playing an integral part in our self-driving effort. We are entering relationships with a deep understanding of a partner’s needs and desire for a vehicle that has the capability to fulfill many use cases and the durability to maximize operation time.

Since the success of autonomous ride hailing or sharing and package delivery will be judged by the number of miles driven that generate revenue, or those carrying people and packages, we’re focused on utilization time and the amount of time a vehicle can remain on the road. That’s why the fuel efficiency and total range of a hybrid-electric vehicle makes the most sense initially. We were the first U.S. automaker to put a hybrid vehicle on the road back in 2004, and we’ve only advanced the technology since. Now, Ford is the second-largest producer of hybrids in the United States.

Perhaps most important of all, the self-driving future begins and ends with creating increased value for our customers. In addition to developing the technology, we’re also working to define how the customer experience can — and must — transform.

Our team at Greenfield Labs in Palo Alto is researching a human-centered design approach that will help us and our partners identify changes to their services that can be made due to the capabilities of self-driving vehicles. We’re working to ensure that our application of self-driving technology enhances, rather than disrupts, what people most value about the services available to them today so we can ensure that our self-driving technology makes their lives better tomorrow.

One thing is certain. Self-driving technology will change the way business is done. To help us build a viable business, we intend to work with multiple partners in the coming months to understand what self-driving technology can enable when applied with a human-centered approach. Working together, we’ll build a sustainable self-driving business that prioritizes the people experience over the technology experience.