DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is postponing its autonomous vehicle commercial services until 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic and could ultimately change what services it offers once the crisis passes.
Ford previously planned to launch self-driving vehicles for commercial use, such as package delivery, at some point in 2021. The company, in partnership with startup Argo AI, has been testing autonomous vehicles in Miami; Detroit; Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Austin, Texas. It had announced Washington, D.C., Austin and Miami would be launch markets.
The company has been testing a number of customer-focused initiatives, including piloting autonomous pizza delivery with Domino's and package delivery through Postmates and Walmart.
"Given the challenges of the current business environment, as well as the need to evaluate the long-term impact of COVID-19 on customer behaviors, Ford made the decision to shift the launch of its self-driving services to 2022," Ford said in a statement. "Understanding customer behavior is a critically important part of building a new mobility service built around trust and making people's lives easier."
Ford said it will monitor what customers want in a post-coronavirus world once the economy begins to reopen.
"Taking the time to research changes in customer behavior provides Ford with an opportunity to evaluate and potentially change our go-to-market strategy to meet new customer demands," the company said. "As part of this evaluation, we also want to make sure the customer experiences we are building offers people peace of mind knowing they, or their packages, are in a safe and protected environment inside our vehicles."
Ford has not yet revealed what type of vehicle it will use for its AV business, although COO Jim Farley has said it will be a "ground-up AV" rather than a converted version of something in its lineup. The automaker will focus on hybrid vehicles first because of their range and potential for high utilization.
"The challenge is building a consumer brand moving people and goods at high volume," Farley said last year. "We have a commercial grade-vehicle. We're betting on moving goods just as much as moving people."