Ford Motor Co. is moving aggressively into autonomous transportation. The automaker will bring a self-driving commercial vehicle to market by 2021 that can be used to move packages and people.
It’s one of the ways Ford is building a connected ecosystem of goods and services. The company has mobility partnerships with both startups and large corporations, is developing its own digital cloud platform and will make its entire lineup compatible with vehicle-to-everything communication, or C-V2X, by 2022.
Marcy Klevorn, president of mobility at Ford, is overseeing the company’s transition into the new space. Klevorn sat down with Trucks.com recently to discuss Ford’s technology, the rise of scooters and how self-driving vehicles will begin to turn a profit. Here is an edited version of the conversation.
What is the latest on Ford’s autonomous commercial vehicle?
It’s due out in 2021. It will be a purpose-built vehicle so we’re not repeating something that we already have. It will be able to move both people and goods. Moving goods is accountable for one-fifth of all the world’s congestion, and that’s growing as more countries are trending toward middle class and people can afford more goods. That is a whole other problem to be solved, and I think autonomy can help.
Are commercial and delivery tasks the fastest ways to implement self-driving technology?
I believe it is. Autonomous vehicles will be expensive; there’s a lot of technology in them. So in order to monetize them and have a return you have to drive utilization. Statistics show we use our cars 4-5 percent of the time. The way to drive utilization is really complementing moving people with moving goods. Obviously, goods are less picky about when they get somewhere. It can be done off peak hours to help relieve congestion. This will be a really important part of the business model equation.
How is Ford planning to see returns on its massive investment in self-driving technology?
We are very accountable to our shareholders, and we feel it’s very important. That’s why we are approaching autonomous vehicles differently — no one is really proving out the business model at the same time they’re building the technology. The two things influence each other. As we work with Postmates, Domino’s and Walmart we learn about how we’re going to monetize it. Being that we’re doing the self-driving software and we’re also the vehicle manufacturer, we really control that entire experience. Not everybody else can do that.
Is Ford transitioning from being a product company to a service company?
Absolutely. And really a tech company. A vehicle is a highly technical product anyway. There are over 100 million lines of code in an F-150. We think about what happens outside a vehicle, how it connects to V2X and sends data to the cloud, and how it uses the information around it.
What has been the most exciting development in the past year?
It was the unprecedented growth in micro-mobility, primarily scooters. I don’t know if anybody saw that coming. We decided to participate by acquiring Spin. They hit 1 million rides way before Uber or Lyft. The amount of rides is about 240,000 per day generating $1 million in revenue per day. We believe in that space, but the people we get to work with are a great group of entrepreneurs. So it’s a win all around.
Why are partnerships important in mobility?
The challenges that we’re trying to address are so big and complicated that nobody is going to do it alone, if you think about congestion in cities or air quality. Our lives revolve around phones, and it changed how quickly people expect things to be delivered. All those things take an ecosystem of partners to address. We launched our transportation mobility cloud last year but this year really is the year of implementation. We’ve got three partners that we’re working with to integrate with the transportation mobility cloud: Swarm, a satellite company; RideOS, an algorithm company; and Spin, the scooter company.