Ford has now launched a self-driving vehicle pilot delivery program in Miami (Florida) in partnership with Domino’s — to be followed by the launch there of a program with Postmates as well — the company’s Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, Sherif Marakby, has revealed.
The launches comprise part of the company’s plans to develop a revenue-sharing model for such services (fleet management) with its various partners — which include the aforementioned Domino’s and Postmates, as well as others.
You’ll note that Ford’s approach to the initial deployment of self-driving vehicles is quite a bit different from the ones being pursued by GM/Cruise and Waymo/Google (as well as the one by Tesla). It seems Ford is simply working to establish partnerships that will see it offer self-driving vehicle fleet management services, rather than self-operating its own robotaxis.
That’s not to say that Ford’s self-driving vehicle solutions may not end up being used by self-driving taxi services, simply that the company won’t be operating these services (seemingly, anyways).
“We will make money through utilizing the vehicle and the revenue that the vehicle generates for every mile it’s operating,” explained Sherif Marakby, in an interview with Reuters.
Here’s more from that coverage: “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. … 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.”
As you’ll recall, Ford is currently working on a new self-driving vehicle solution — designed for the purpose from the ground up — that will begin production sometime around 2021 if Ford president Jim Farley is to be believed.
The idea behind this new offering is to design a vehicle with a flexible enough design that it can be used for a variety of different purposes — robotaxi service, delivery services, etc. — without the need being there for extensive alterations for different needs.
Very notably, and as you may also recall, Ford will reportedly be using hybrid technology in the new self-driving solutions. In other words, the offerings won’t be fully electric and may not even have a plug much of the time — which makes the company’s plans somewhat divergent from the industry as a whole, which seems to be focused on all-electric robotaxis.
To add to all of this, here are some select excerpts from a piece published recently by Ford’s Marakby on Medium: “So now, we’re headed to Florida to test and prove out our business model. With the help of Miami-Dade County, we’re taking our service directly to the streets of Miami and Miami Beach…To understand what Miami-Dade residents would experience with self-driving vehicle service, the first part of our presence will involve pilot programs throughout the year with our partners, starting with Domino’s and Postmates. What we learn from this customer experience research will be applied to the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that we plan to launch in 2021 to support the expansion of our service.
“Another way to think about it is to consider the costs of convenience. Today, deliveries can be made to someone’s door, though there is usually an extra charge involved. Oftentimes, drivers illegally double-park when they can’t find a space, potentially causing traffic congestion for others. A self-driving vehicle won’t need to be tipped and it won’t park illegally. So, from the outset we understand there are both hurdles and benefits to self-driving delivery in cities and we intend to learn all of these ins and outs so that we can serve people in a way that’s most intuitive and convenient. Our Domino’s pilot is already up and running in Miami, and we’re finalizing plans to launch one with Postmates in March.
“In parallel to creating the best customer experience possible, we will continue to develop the self-driving technology powering our vehicles by expanding testing in partnership with Argo AI. Running a self-driving business in any city requires a comprehensive understanding of local laws and the unique driving habits of residents, which is where Argo specializes. A new fleet of Argo vehicles is already on the streets, mapping the roads and accumulating miles that will help us improve the way they move through cities…That’s why we’re establishing our first autonomous vehicle operations terminal in Miami. Situated close to downtown, it will be the base from which we’ll develop our vehicle management processes and house our test fleet. The vehicles will be washed and have their sensors cleaned here; routine maintenance will be conducted, including troubleshooting problems that arise and more.”
Overall, the approach being taken by Ford sounds pretty interesting, but it does appear that the company may be putting itself into a position to fall behind competitors such as Waymo/Google. Though, of course, that’s not something that is yet known.