Nair said he doesn’t expect autonomous vehicles to be available to individual consumers for “several years after their first introduction because the economics simply don’t make sense.” But he said they can spread quickly among ride-hailing services by cutting the labor costs and commissions they have to pay.
Fields said he expects autonomous vehicles to change society as much as company founder Henry Ford’s assembly line did more than a century ago.
Said Fields: “This is a transformational moment in our industry, and it is a transformational moment in our company.”
Ford’s plan lacks specifics of how it will make this great leap, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for researcher Autotrader.
“I’m not seeing all the pieces of the puzzle in place because they don’t have a relationship with a ride hailing service like Uber or Lyft," Krebs said. "It’s a first step and at least Wall Street will see that they’re working on this.”
Morgan Hill, Calif.-based Velodyne said the investment from Ford and Baidu will help it improve design and expand production, making the sensors more affordable for mass adoption. Lidar bounces light off objects to assess shape and location, giving self-driving cars a 360-degree view of their environment with the help of cameras and traditional radar.
“They want to do as much as they can internally, but also acknowledge that it’s best to partner with those who have the leading technology,” Jeff Schuster, an analyst at research firm LMC Automotive, said of Ford.
GM spent almost $1 billion acquiring self-driving software maker Cruise Automation and invested $500 million for a 9 percent stake in ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has teamed with Google to develop 100 self-driving minivans. Ford conducted unsuccessful negotiations with Google prior to the Chrysler deal.
Since GM announced its acquisition of Cruise Automation in March, the staff at the company has grown to 100 from 40, said Kevin Kelly, a GM spokesman. GM is testing Cruise’s self-driving software on Chevy Bolt electric cars in Scottsdale, Arizona. GM also has a research lab in Palo Alto that employs about 12 people, Kelly said.
“Our goal is to use our autonomous technology in an on-demand ride-sharing network,” Kelly said. “Cruise paired perfectly with Lyft.”
Velodyne said it “expects an exponential increase in lidar sensor deployments” and that it will continue to work with top automotive and ride-sharing companies worldwide.
“We want the cost to be low enough to be used for all cars,” Marta Hall, Velodyne’s president of business development, said in the statement.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.