Ford is making a big push to catch up in the self-driving car race

jim hackett ces 2018
Ford CEO Jim Hackett speaking at CES on Tuesday.
CES

  • Ford outlined its vision for the future of transportation and urban life in a presentation at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Tuesday.
  • The presentation highlighted cloud and cellular technology that would allow vehicles, pedestrians, public transit, and infrastructure to communicate.
  • The presentation was light on details and heavy on vision, indicating Ford may have wanted to benefit from the excitement around autonomous transportation despite not having made significant progress on a self-driving vehicle.

As the potential for self-driving vehicles moves closer to becoming a reality, Ford is lagging behind rivals, like Tesla and General Motors, that are aggressively testing autonomous vehicles and may have a lead in getting one to market.

In Ford's presentation at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Tuesday, the company seemed to implicitly acknowledge that gap as it outlined its vision for the future of transportation and urban life.

The presentation revolved around communication platforms that Ford is developing and their potential applications. The company touted its partnership with Silicon Valley startup Autonomic as they collaborate on the "Transportation Mobility Cloud," which would allow for communication between vehicles, pedestrians, public transit, and city infrastructure. The technology could allow cities to have greater control over traffic by directing self-driving vehicles away from accidents and obstacles, or by making sure that empty vehicles avoid high-traffic areas.

The Transportation Mobility Cloud would be run by cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology developed with Qualcomm.

In an op-ed, Executive Director of Connected Vehicle and Services Don Butler indicated that the technology would not require a cellular subscription or traditional wireless network. In his presentation at CES, Butler said that over 700,000 Ford vehicles are equipped to use the technology, and by 2019, every new Ford vehicle will have the capacity to use it.

Executive Vice President Jim Farley touted how businesses could use the technology to deliver goods and services to customers. He announced a partnership with Postmates and mentioned Ford's collaborations with Domino's and Lyft. Farley also indicated that Ford will begin testing self-driving technology in a new city that will be announced in the coming months.

Ford

Opening the presentation, CEO Jim Hackett highlighted the potential for autonomous vehicles and associated technology to "disrupt" modern transportation systems by decreasing congestion and pollution in cities and promoting civic life.

"It's not about the city getting smarter, it's about humans having a better day," he said.

The presentation was short on timelines and practical details about implementing changes. Instead, it focused on promoting a broad vision for improved cities and transportation systems, hinting that Ford may have wanted to benefit from the excitement around autonomous transportation despite not having made significant progress on a self-driving vehicle.

"We're just beginning this conversation," Hackett said.

Get the latest Ford stock price here.

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