Ford Motor Company has announced that it is uniting its autonomous vehicle (AV) efforts under a single entity, Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC. Sherif Marakby, previously a Ford vice president, has been tapped to head up the new business. Marakby has worked extensively in product development at Ford, has headed up AV and vehicle electrification efforts at Ford, and even served for a year at Uber in the company’s global vehicle programs.
Ford has promised to have a fully-autonomous vehicle in commercial operation by 2021. By this, Ford means that its AV will operate “without a steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal, within geo-fenced areas as part of a ride sharing or ride hailing experience.” The promised AV would be able to operate as a Level 4 “high automation” vehicle, according to the rating system developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), says that a Level 4 vehicle “can itself perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment – essentially, do all the driving – in certain circumstances. The human need not pay attention in those circumstances.” The only higher rating is a Level 5 vehicle, while can “do all the driving in all circumstances.”
Explaining the rationale behind the unification of its AV operations, Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett said, “Now is the right time to consolidate our autonomous driving platform into one team to best position the business for the opportunities ahead.”
As suggested by Hackett, the company intends to capitalize on the fast-emerging AV market opportunity. According to the company announcement, the new business unit will bring together “Ford’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams.” Ford plans to invest $4 billion in its AV efforts from now through 2023.
The AV business unit is structured so as to be able to take on outside investments, and will be housed primarily at Ford’s Corktown campus in Detroit. The business goes into operation August 1, 2018.