DETROIT — Ford and General Motors are taking increasingly divergent paths toward an autonomous future.
After GM laid out a detailed vision of deploying large numbers of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs in 2019, Ford countered with more information on the autonomous vehicle it aims to release in 2021, saying it will be an all-new, purpose-built hybrid. Ford is upping its investment and adding assembly jobs in Michigan dedicated to building that vehicle, moving planned production of a long-range electric crossover to Mexico to make room.
The moves come amid growing perceptions that Ford lags GM in these fields, but Ford's top sales executive, Jim Farley, asserted that the company is taking a more purposeful approach than its rivals. Picking a hybrid over an EV will allow it to stay on the road longer without charging, he said, and designing a new vehicle to be autonomous instead of converting an existing nameplate, as GM has done with the Bolt, should better serve commercial businesses.
Both choices are meant to help Ford's autonomous vehicle become profitable quickly — a goal GM is obviously shooting for, too.
"Others have made a big deal about verifying the technology; we think that's table stakes," Farley, Ford's president of global markets, told Automotive News.
"We think what's important is to verify the business model. The most important thing is that we execute well. We don't want to get ahead of our skis."
GM has announced plans to test its autonomous technology by deploying self-driving Bolts in New York next year and has already been running them in Michigan, Arizona and California.
Ford, meanwhile, plans to verify its business model with multiple unnamed partners in a yet-to-be-named test city next year.
It won't focus as much on miles driven, Farley said, as it will on the customer experience.
GM plans to use its autonomous Bolts for a ride-hailing service in urban areas. Ford is taking a different route, saying its autonomous hybrid will be used for a host of commercial purposes, such as package delivery. This year, it announced a pilot with Domino's to deliver pizza in a self-driving vehicle.
"We have to have a more diverse revenue model than ride-hailing," Farley said.