GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett said he would not yet ride in an autonomous car on public roads, although the automaker remains "on track" to deliver a self-driving car of its own in 2021.
Hackett, speaking at a breakfast lecture series at Grand Valley State University, polled the audience by asking how many participants would not get in a self-driving car today if given the chance. About a quarter of the room raised their hands.
"The trust isn't real high," he said. "I wouldn't yet, either."
Hackett later said he wouldn't be comfortable in one today, but would be "very soon."
The remarks underscore the progress that still needs to happen before robot cars can safely hit the roadways. Automakers including Ford have been testing self-driving vehicles at both controlled test sites and on public roadways. A host of companies, including Tesla Inc. and General Motors, have introduced semiautonomous features such as AutoPilot and Super Cruise.
Ford has said it plans to offer a Level 4 self-driving vehicle, without a steering wheel or pedals, in 2021 for commercial purposes such as ride-hailing and package delivery that could operate in mapped "geo-fenced" areas. Last week, it announced a partnership with ride-hailing service Lyft Inc. in an effort to deploy autonomous vehicles on Lyft's network.
Hackett's remarks here came a day before he's set to lay out his vision of the future for Wall Street investors. Hackett took over in May after Ford's board of directors ousted then-CEO Mark Fields.
"I haven't done a damn thing yet, but I have some ideas," he said Monday.
Those ideas include improving Ford's "competitive fitness," and understanding where the industry will change and how Ford can stay ahead of the competitive curve.
Hackett likened it to mail delivery, where at one time the Pony Express was the most fit way to deliver mail, before that gave way to the railroad, delivery trucks and, eventually, email.
"In each [instance] the incumbent loses because they can't see the emergence of the next one," he said. "Imagine you're the chairman of the Pony Express and you say, 'I have a great idea: Get rid of the pony.' That's what disruption is ... and I'm doing that at Ford."
Hackett said he was proud of his new team of eight direct reports, including three executive vice presidents: Jim Farley, Joe Hinrichs and Marcy Klevorn. His team is small compared to that of Fields, who had 17 direct reports.
"It's the way you change a company," he said. "If you get a small group of people, they can change the world."
Hackett was quick to point out he's not a traditional "auto guy," but that he's been able to mesh with his team and get them to opt-in to his way of thinking.
"There's a dance where they have to get comfortable that I'm humble enough about respect for the auto industry," he said. "But I'm arrogant enough to say, if you were perfect, a bunch of [Ford's competitors] wouldn't have gone bankrupt in '08."
Hackett also stressed that as vehicles get more complex, Ford has a responsibility to make them more user-friendly. He said eventually there will be more data processed in one car than there are atoms in the universe.
"Robotics and AI scare a lot of people; I'm not scared by it at all," he said. "Would you have been been scared of fire or the wheel or the Internet or other innovations? You just have to believe humanity is going to do good things with it."