LIVE FROM CES 2016: Automotive giant Ford glossed over rumours it is set to embark on a major self-driving car deal with Google, instead using its time in the spotlight this morning to strike deals with Amazon and others to strengthen the digitisation of its vehicles.
On the subject of autonomous (self) driving, Ford CTO Raj Nair claimed the company is tripling the size of its autonomous testing fleet in 2016. “We will have about 30 fusion hybrid autonomous cars on test tracks in the US this year,” he said, claiming that to be the automotive industry’s largest autonomous testing fleet.
And when these self-driving cars finally become available to consumers, Ford president and CEO Mark Fields said they won’t be confined to the very high-end of the market. “They will be designed to serve millions of customers,” he promised.
Addressing speculation surrounding the Google tieup, Fields cautiously noted that Ford is working with many partners and “will share more news on our work with autonomous vehicles as we have it.”
In an interview with Re/Code, Fields added: “We are open to a lot of different things, but we are not interested in doing contract manufacturing.”
Yesterday rival General Motors – also present at this year’s show – laid out plans to develop an on-demand network of self-driving cars with ride-sharing service Lyft, after it invested $500 million in the startup.
Away from autonomous driving, Ford’s press event this morning announced a deal with Amazon that will see Ford’s in-car software connect with connected home devices, particularly Amazon Echo. Drivers will be able to start the car from the house, open the garage as they approach the house and check the gas level from the Echo system.
Meanwhile a drone deal with China’s DJI will see Ford set up a developer challenge to coordinate communication between drones and its cars. Response times to emergencies are one target area, where F-150 trucks in crisis areas could enable drones to take off and land and communicate information to the driver.
And Ford also announced plans to equip its cars with 4G mobile Internet from AT&T, while adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support to its 2017 models running its Sync 3 in-car entertainment system (2016 owners can upgrade their existing systems to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay).
“This year we will become an auto and a mobility company. It’s a massive opportunity,” noted Fields.