Ford Plans a Self-Driving Service—But Tech Problems Still Loom

November 15, 2018, 3:36 PM UTC

The automobile industry’s future looks a bit rough thanks to a decline in auto sales and sign-ups for driver’s licenses. So, Ford is expanding its horizons with plans to launch a self-driving ride-share service in 2021, CNBC reports. It’s a direction that will ultimately clash with the likes of Uber, Lyft, and General Motors (GM), among others.

The company has been testing a self-driving Ford Fusion in Miami for nine months. The cars are expensive but “the cost per mile for transportation for a person or a business is going to be lower and will be profitable for us,” Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, told CNBC.

Counting on future car sales is risky. Total unit year-over-year sales growth has been turning negative since 2016, according to government data via the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. And a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study found a continuous multi-decade decrease in the percentage of driver’s licenses held by 16- through 44-year-olds, reducing the potential market.

Others are also aiming for self-driving ride-share services. GM is putting $100 million into self-driving car production, The Verge reported, and the company has plans for its own service in 2019, according to Bloomberg.

Lyft and Uber also are serious about the technology. The latter was piloting self-driving uberX cars in Pittsburgh, but then it had the world’s first self-driving fatality when a car ran into a woman in Tempe, Ariz.

And that’s the rub. Tests by AAA show the current systems don’t always work, as the Associated Press reported. Earlier Insurance for Highway Safety tests had similar results.

The tech is improving, but must get better fast enough for auto makers to steer clear of the financial red line.