The benefits of a Ford-Google self-driving car partnership make perfect sense. Ford could leapfrog the competition by doing a deal with Google to build a fleet of self-driving cars to the tech giant’s specifications. Google could save billions in development costs because it would not have to design, build, test, manufacture and validate cars for safety and emissions.
Ford could base Google vehicles off the Fusion, but it is more likely Ford engineers would create a purpose-built vehicle. The car would be developed from the wheels up to seamlessly package the complex electronics, Lidar, radar and camera sensing and computer systems needed to guide a vehicle safely down the road. The benefit being it would look like a normal car, not one of Google’s experimental “bubble cars.”
A Ford-Google Partnership Equals Access To Technology
By using Ford-built vehicles, Google would save billions in development costs. A deal would free the tech giant to focus on developing the automated driving software in use in a fleet of 53 self-driving bubble cars on the road in California and Texas. Roush Enterprises, a supplier closely aligned with Ford assembled those 53 cars, in Detroit, by the way.
In turn, Ford could gain access to Google’s self-driving technology. Ford has been tinkering with autonomous vehicles and software for years, but failed to gain a leadership position.
“It’s not only about what are the things that are going to be core to us but who are we going to partner with, in some cases,” Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields said.
Ford may have felt pressure to partner with Google to bolster its automated-driving efforts as the competition heats up. Tesla’s Autopilot technology is on the road in the Model S. Cadillac is about a year away from launching Super Cruise on its flagship CT6 sedan. The Japanese carmakers promise self-driving technology by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus and BMW are rushing to incorporate self-driving features.
Yahoo reports that the company would be “legally separate” from Ford because of liability concerns about the fledgling autonomous car market, and that the deal would be non-exclusive.
There have been signs leading up to this announcement because both Ford’s and Google’s approaches to autonomous driving are surprisingly similar. Google wants nothing to do with introducing self-driving technology gradually, adding features one-by-one so humans cede control over time. It’s working on a car with no steering wheel, no pedals, and no role for the human other than sitting still and behaving while the car does the driving. For its part, Ford is fast-forwarding to full automation, with hopes of offering a no-kidding, fully autonomous car in five years.
There are other signs, too. In September, Google hired former Ford and Hyundai executive John Krafcik as CEO of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project and Google parent Alphabet is planning to make the project its own unit to compete in the car-sharing business. Ford CEO Fields recently announced Ford has received the permits needed to test Fusion autonomous vehicles in California, where it has established a research center in Silicon Valley, near Google. And Ford will be the first automaker to test its autonomous Fusion at Mcity.
Ford-Google Self-Driving Car Partnership Not Completely Rosy
It’s highly unlikely Ford will be happy providing nothing but wheels, motors, and seats, while Google does all the valuable, exciting work. That path is a shortcut to irrelevance. Bill Ford, the executive chairman and former CEO of the automaker, has said one thing he doesn’t want to see is Ford reduced to the role of a hardware subcontractor for companies doing the more innovative work.
Nonetheless, Ford has a news conference scheduled at CES for Tuesday, January 5th at 7:30AM Pacific Time. Anticipation over the impending announcement is building.