Ford is actively developing its own self-driving car, and has what I believe to be the most realistic timeline for delivering its own autonomous vehicle. Although Tesla has rolled out Autopilot and Google, Uber, and others are testing self-driving cars on the roads now, we are still a few years away from truly driverless cars motoring around public streets.
As one can guess, the real road block to getting self-driving cars on the road in this decade will be regulators. Ford said it and others in the industry have been lobbying lawmakers for rules that will allow self-driving vehicles to be on the road safely. But nothing moves fast in Congress; Ford’s best guess is that we could have rules that would allow for the launch a set of fleet vehicles by 2021 or 2022.
Interestingly, Ford believes that the first wave of self-driving cars will be dispatched on-demand before it and others start selling autonomous vehicles directly to customers, which will provide it with a great deal of data.
Ford’s rivals appear to have a similar outlook, hence GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft—which sees an end to private car ownership by 2025—Uber’s partnership with Volvo, and Apple’s $1 billion investment in China’s Didi Chuxing.
This rollout strategy is interesting and important, as it lays the groundwork for a completely new approach to our driving options and needs. The idea of having a fleet of vehicles at anyone’s disposal makes the issue of owning a vehicle a real question.
In my case, it would be a cost of ownership versus the cost of using an autonomous driving vehicle for all of my personal transportation needs. Right now, I lease my car for about $4,500 a year plus gas, and I drive about 13,000 miles a year. For this to work for me, the car would have to get to me quickly.
While you may hear more aggressive timetables than what Ford is suggesting, I suspect its forecast is pretty accurate. I would really like to have either a fleet of vehicles at my disposal or even own one myself, but I don’t see that happening until the beginning of the next decade.