Ford and Lyft team up to bring autonomous cars to the public by 2021

Ford is looking to enter the autonomous cars race in a big way following a partnership with ride-sharing firm Lyft.

In a blog post on Medium, Ford’s Sherif Marakby, VP of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, announced the pair will collaborate to “deploy Ford self-driving vehicles on the ride services company’s network in large numbers by 2021.”

Specifically, Ford and Lyft teams will work together to design the software needed to allow Ford vehicles to work with Lyft in the first instance, but customers will not be able to use them until further testing is done. This partnership will, instead, pave the way to increase the mileage on self-driving cars and prove it works.

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“Lyft has a network of customers, growing demand for rides and strong knowledge of transportation flow within cities,” said Marakby. “We have experience with autonomous vehicle technology development and large scale manufacturing. Both companies have fleet management and big data experience. With our combined capabilities, we believe we can effectively share information to help make the best decisions for the future.:

He added that the project is designed to answer questions around creating how to dispatch autonomous cars, which cities should they launch in first, and the infrastructure needed to service and maintain a fleet of self-driving vehicles. 

“We’re not building prototypes for the sake of building prototypes,” Marakby added. Ford’s new CEO Jim Hackett is set to meet with investors on Tuesday to discuss the company’s profit strategy. Beyond self-driving cars, Hackett is expected to use this meeting to outline a more drastic push into electric cars, too. 

Ford’s former CEO, Mark Fields, recently got axed in favour of Hackett, and last month analysts predicted Ford would go into the electric market in a big way. According to Electrek, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas told clients in August Ford will likely be making a significant shift in how it spends its R&D budget over the coming years. The note reads:The note reads:

“We expect Ford to go ‘all-in’ on EVs. With an emphasis on pure EVs. Hybrids? Not so much. Prior management was vague with how its $4.5bn investment in ‘electrification’ would be allocated. We are hopeful for a significantly upgraded level of transparency, given the pace of change in EV adoption and expenditure worldwide.”

The note talks about a $4.5 billion investment. This was announced before the switch in leadership, but sources at the time suggested it would be used for hybrid cars – not EVs. It now looks like Ford will basically skip most of its hybrid programme and move straight into developing electric cars.

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That may sound drastic, but Ford is behind its main competitors right now, and needs to catch up. Chevrolet, Mercedes, Audi, Nissan and others all have robust EV programmes in place, and Ford really needs to speed up. It makes more sense, then, to focus on electric cars, rather than hybrid’s stepping-stone technology. Even Dyson is entering the race with plans for a Dyson electric car in the works.  

According to Electrek, Hackett has already brought back a former Ford executive from Uber to run the company’s EV and autonomous programme, and with this Lyft partnership, it looks like Ford is already refocusing its efforts.

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