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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While Ford's autonomous vehicles are learning to drive on Miami's bustling streets, the company is simultaneously mapping out a business strategy for the driverless future by tapping local merchants for input on its first purpose-built AV.

Why it matters: The U.S. market for AVs will be $332 billion by 2026, according to Ford. About 40% could be for goods delivery including small businesses that are often constrained because they can't afford to hire drivers or buy delivery vehicles for only sporadic use.

The background: Ford is testing a small fleet of AVs — with safety drivers but simulating fully autonomous operation — in hopes of deploying tens of thousands of self-driving vehicles to move people and goods in multiple cities, starting in 2021.

Lessons learned from those tests — about preferences for interacting with driverless vehicles and how the car's interior might be configured to keep food orders separate or dry-cleaning pressed — will influence Ford's AV design and refine its business strategy.

  • Today, ride-hailing costs about $2.50 per mile. Cut out the driver and Ford estimates that cost could fall to $1 per mile, boosting demand.
  • Add in revenue from other things like fleet management, deliveries and digital content and they think the profit potential dwarfs the 6%–10% margins of traditional auto-making.
“The opportunity of that market is massive. It’s a margin that is like no automotive markets today."
— Sherif Marakby, president, Ford Autonomous Vehicles

To ensure a profitable business, the company says it will need to keep its AVs running round-the-clock:

  • During peak commuting times, they'll be used mostly for ride-hailing by people looking to complete the "last mile" of their trip.
  • During business hours they could be used for delivering packages or food.
  • In the evening, they might be turned into roving party buses, ushering fans to a concert, for example.

Details: Ford is working with 7 local Miami merchants to assess the level of demand for commercial deliveries using AVs. The 2 month trial was eye-opening, Lydia and Roland Losas of Giralda Dry Cleaners told me.

  • By assigning the AV test vehicle to bring dirty laundry from their four stores to their central cleaning plant, they freed up 2 employee drivers to serve customers at luxury hotels.
  • Using an AV for laundry delivery helped them avoid costs like car payments, liability insurance, gasoline, tolls and part-time seasonal help.
  • They think it opens the door for new growth opportunities like wash-and-fold services for college students, Lydia said.

The bottom line: Automakers are targeting small businesses as a potential market for AVs that might fill their intermittent needs, allowing them to save on labor and fixed costs.

Go deeper

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Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.

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Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

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Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and to lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

A young girl waves to onlookers through the fence at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Ysidro, California, in Nov. 2018. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.