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Ford to Expand Driverless Car Testing in Europe by 2017

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【Summary】The group announced plans to conduct tests on European soil in 2017. In order to ease such risks, which could easily derail the company’s 2021 goals, Ford commissioned a survey to find out how ready the European market is for self-driving cars.

Michael Cheng    Dec 05, 2016 6:15 AM PT

The race to build and release a fully functioning driverless car is filled with companies from different parts of the world. While a large bulk of their customers are based in the United States, some businesses in the sector, like nuTonomy (testing its autonomous fleet in Singapore) and Nissan (testing in Japan), are focusing on other regions to refine various parts of the technology. 

Another auto brand that is set to move in that direction is Ford. The group announced plans to conduct tests on European soil in 2017. Industry analysts see the move as a smart one. Regulatory hurdles in the US has frustrated several self-driving car developers, including Google. The tech giant is currently dealing with slow policy-making processes established by California officials and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"It is important that we extend our testing to Europe," said Ford of Europe's manager for Automated Driving Thomas Lukaszewicz. "Rules of the road vary from country to country here, traffic signs and road layouts are different, and drivers are likely to share congested roads with cyclists."

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Ford and 2021

Ford's intention to release vehicles with L4 autonomous features, as classified by the Society of Automotive Engineers, by 2021 is ambitious. But going beyond this goal, the company is aiming to leverage its future fleet of self-driving cars to stay ahead of its competitors, which includes car manufacturers invested in commercial ride-sharing and on-demand transportation services. Ford is known for utilizing newly formed partnerships to expand its core products. For example, the company acquired ride-sharing shuttle service Chariot (based in San Francisco) in an all-cash deal and incorporated up to 100 Transit Connect vans to grow the service to 28 busy routes around the city.

In Europe, the business will launch testing programs in Ford's Engineering Center in Essex, U.K., as well as Research & Advanced Engineering facilities located in Aachen and Cologne, Germany. The company chose the locations for their high level of familiarity surrounding driverless technology. By firmly establishing its presence in Europe, Ford hopes to streamline the release of its future offerings in the area by first launching in the US. Moreover, the car brand's strategy is to influence the nascent driverless car market in Europe by showcasing its success in the US.

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Easing Barrier-to-Entry Risks

By pioneering expansion from the US to Europe, Ford could face numerous, unforeseen barrier-to-entry challenges. In order to ease such risks, which could easily derail the company's 2021 goals, Ford commissioned a survey to find out how ready the European market is for self-driving cars. The business uncovered that roughly 16 percent of respondents (out of 4,000 submissions) are open to the idea of allowing their child to use autonomous vehicles for daily commuting to or from school. A whopping 72 percent plan to use time inside the modern cars to catch up on phone conversations, while 64 percent would like to use the free hours to eat.

"Time freed up by autonomous commuting isn't insubstantial – Ford says its data shows that Europeans spend, on average, 10 full days per year in their cars," explained Darrell Etherington from TechCrunch.

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