Ford launches self-driving pilot with delivery partners in Miami

The company said on Tuesday it has launched a pilot delivery program in Miami with Domino‘s

Reuters February 28, 2018
A fleet of Uber's Ford Fusion self driving cars are shown during a demonstration of self-driving automotive technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, September 13, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ford is taking a different approach from rival General Motors in deploying self-driving vehicles, focusing initially on partnering with and operating vehicles for a variety of companies, from Domino’s Pizza to Lyft, executives said.

Ford said on Tuesday it has launched a pilot delivery program in Miami with Domino‘s, and next month will add goods delivery startup Postmates. The automaker said it is developing a revenue-sharing model with its partners, for whom it will provide fleet-management services.

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The company’s business model is different from the one being developed by GM, which last fall said it would launch its own commercial ride-sharing service with self-driving vehicles in 2019.

Ford plans to provide a self-driving vehicle service to multiple partners, who in turn would offer it to their customers under their own brand names. A Lyft customer, for instance, could schedule a ride from a Lyft mobile phone app in a Ford self-driving vehicle.

“We will make money through utilizing the vehicle and the revenue that the vehicle generates for every mile it’s operating,” Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, said in an interview.

That model could include a revenue split with the partner, and additional revenue from streaming digital services such as infotainment, advertising, and e-commerce into the vehicle.

Ford said the mixed-use model -- transporting people and goods -- offered a better chance of keeping its vehicles operating throughout the day and thus maximizing potential revenue.

Jim Farley, president of Ford Global Markets, said the company is designing a unique self-driving vehicle from the ground up, which it intends to begin producing in 2021.

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The vehicle will be flexible enough to carry people, goods or both, and will be powered by a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain to provide good range and minimize the downtime required by pure electric vehicles such as GM’s Cruise AV to charge their batteries.

“We think the mixed-use scenario, (moving) people and goods, could really help us drive utilization (rates) and have the freedom to design a vehicle for that,” Farley said.

Marakby said Ford, working with its affiliate Argo AI, is deploying self-driving Fusion sedans in Miami and will add vans and SUVs as it rolls out its pilot program to other cities.