Sep 25, 2019

Ford's self-driving cars roll into Texas

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Ford is bringing self-driving cars to Austin, Texas — its third launch city — but says it'll take at least 2 years to figure out how they'll be used and how to make money from them.

The big picture: Ford and its technology partner, Argo AI, are taking a different tack from most other AV companies, which tend to focus on a single launch market.

Ford, on the other hand, is fanning out across 6 cities with test vehicles, and says it will launch commercial service in 3 — Miami, Washington, D.C., and now Austin — beginning in 2021.

  • Unlike competitors, it has not adjusted its deployment timeline, which had been seen as conservative in 2017 when hype over self-driving cars reached its peak.
  • More time is needed, Ford says, to digitally map each city, learn its unique driving characteristics and — most important — work with city leaders to identify how AVs should be used to improve transportation problems.
  • "We're all in to drive the integration of the technology and work on the business model because technology for the sake of technology won't work," Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, told reporters.

Yes, but: Deploying automated vehicles in a single city is a costly slog, notes Brian Collie, head of Boston Consulting Group's automotive and mobility practice.

  • You can't drop a fleet of AVs in a city overnight like a scooter company can.
  • Creating precise digital maps of an urban area, and then validating the technology there, costs between $300 million and $400 million per city, Collie estimates.
  • That's why BCG predicts there will be different AV winners in each city.
  • In choosing launch markets, AV companies weigh everything from city layout to weather, critical business decisions that will determine which populations are first exposed to AVs and how they'll develop, Rob Toews writes for Axios Expert Voices.

Ford argues its multi-city approach will give it an edge by allowing it to scale up faster.

  • "If we have a launch in 3 cities, in a variety of environments, we'll be able to scale fast ... and we think scale is key," Marakby says.

What to watch: Ford test vehicles will begin mapping Austin streets in November, following a similar pattern as in Miami and Washington.

Go deeper: How AV companies are picking their U.S. launch markets

Go deeper

How AV companies are picking their U.S. launch markets

A GM Cruise test vehicle in San Francisco. Photo: Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images

As autonomous vehicle companies plan for commercial robotaxi deployments, they're weighing everything from city layout to weather in selecting launch markets.

Why it matters: Robotaxis will not be available everywhere at the same time. AV companies must choose cities to start with — a critical business decision that will determine which populations are first exposed to this technology and how it further develops.

Go deeperArrowSep 25, 2019

Simulations could have real-world impact on decongesting city streets

Ford technicians study City Insights Studio. Photo courtesy of Ford

As cities get more crowded, companies are developing SimCity-like software that help urban planners plot better transportation networks.

Why it matters: These software programs enable communities to visualize the movement of people and goods around their city and develop solutions to reduce congestion and improve safety.

Go deeperArrowOct 4, 2019

Autonomous vehicles won't save cities without sharing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As congestion cripples the world's cities, transportation officials and city planners are trying to figure out how automated vehicles can help alleviate traffic and address climate change.

Why it matters: Robotaxis and delivery AVs running non-stop won't stop anything if they're merely replacing existing cars on the road. Instead, AVs need to be thoughtfully woven into reinvigorated public transportation systems so they become a desirable alternative to personal cars.

Go deeperArrowOct 9, 2019