Ford plans to bring autonomous vehicles to a test market in 2018, CEO says

Key Points
  • Ford will begin a market test of autonomous vehicles in 2018.
  • Staffing at Argo AI has reached a "high-water mark."
  • Ford is considering new potential markets for autonomous cars.
Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

Ford will bring autonomous vehicles to a test market in 2018, said Ford CEO Jim Hackett on Thursday.

Hackett did not specify where the test will take place or provide many more details during a conference call with analysts after the company reported strong third-quarter earnings that beat Wall Street expectations.

Ford plans to bring an autonomous vehicle to market in 2021. The company is trying to shake the image of being behind the recent trends in new mobility technologies, such as self-driving cars and electric powertrains.

Ford is investing $1 billion over the next five years in autonomous driving technology company Argo AI. Hackett on Wednesday said staffing at Argo had just reached a "high-water mark," but he would not specify how many people worked there.

Hackett did say autonomous vehicles could lead Ford into new businesses. For example, Ford said in August it would partner with Domino's Pizza to test the autonomous technology on pizza delivery routes in Michigan. On Thursday's call, Hackett said partnerships such as this can reduce Ford's costs in developing the technology and allow the company to enter new industries.

"The world knows about ride-hailing, but I don't think they were thinking about pizza delivery," Hackett said on the call.

Silicon Valley firms such as Waymo and Tesla have arguably caught a lot more attention than traditional automakers for their efforts toward building autonomous vehicles. Incumbents have responded by acquiring or investing in start-ups working on the technology. General Motors bought self-driving startup Cruise Automation in 2016, and the startup Strobe in October. Strobe makes Lidar, a laser-based sensor system used by self-driving cars to recognize surroundings.

Ford shares were up more than 1 percent on Thursday. The stock so far this year has barely moved, whereas shares of GM are up roughly 30 percent and shares of Tesla are up more than 50 percent.