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John Gilchrist, Ford Mustang Mach-E engineer, demonstrates Active Drive Assist, which allows for hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in the U.S. and Canada. Photo: Ford

Ford is preparing to launch a hands-free driving feature on certain 2021 models, starting with its upcoming electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E.

Why it matters: The plug-in Mach-E is Ford's Tesla fighter, which means it needs assisted driving capability to compete with Tesla's Autopilot. Like the Tesla system, Ford's new Active Drive Assist has limitations.

  • "You are always in charge and you must pay attention to the road ahead," Darren Palmer, Ford's global director for battery electric vehicles, told journalists this week.

Details: Ford's hands-free driving system is actually more like GM's Super Cruise technology, now available on select Cadillacs.

  • An infrared camera mounted on the dashboard keeps track of the driver's gaze and head position, even if the driver is wearing sunglasses or a face mask. (Tesla doesn't have a driver monitoring system, which is why GM's system gets higher marks from Consumer Reports.)
  • Ford's technology will enable hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in the U.S. and Canada, under the right circumstances.

There is one way that Ford is copying Tesla, though: Buyers need to pay for the hardware upfront, because the software that enables the hands-free feature isn't ready yet and will have to be added later.

  • In Ford's case, starting later this year Mach-E buyers can pay for the Active Drive Assist hardware as part of the Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package.
  • Then in late 2021, they'll pay another fee to add the software that enables hands-free driving either via an over-the-air update or installed at a dealership.
  • Ford has not announced pricing for the hardware or the software.
  • Tesla buyers pay $7,000 — and starting July 1, $8,000 — for "full self-driving" technology that is not yet available, not is it clear when it will be.

Go deeper

Sep 18, 2020 - Economy & Business

GM's eyes are wide open on Nikola partnership

GM CEO Mary Barra. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This week General Motors found itself having to defend a deal in which it can't lose — illustrating how distorted the markets have become over newly public electric vehicle companies.

Catch up quick: On Sept. 8, GM announced a strategic partnership with Nikola Motor Co., a high-flying startup with ambitions to build electric and hydrogen fuel-cell trucks, but no revenue. Nikola shares soared 40% on the news, and GM climbed too.

Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

The daily rate of new coronavirus infections rose by about 10 percent in the final week before Thanksgiving, continuing a dismal trend that may get even worse in the weeks to come.

Why it matters: Travel and large holiday celebrations are most dangerous in places where the virus is spreading widely — and right now, that includes the entire U.S.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.