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Ford's CEO: We'll Sell Self-Driving Cars to the Public in 2025

By John Rosevear – Sep 13, 2016 at 4:20PM

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It might seem like Ford is trailing rivals in bringing self-driving technology to market. But the Blue Oval is playing a somewhat different game.

Ford CEO Mark Fields discussed the company's self-driving plans at an event on Monday. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Ford Motor Company (F -2.49%) will begin selling fully self-driving cars to the public around 2025, CEO Mark Fields said during a presentation on Monday.

What Mark Fields said about Ford's self-driving plans

Fields reiterated that Ford plans to begin mass-production of a fully driverless car by 2021. Initially, that car will be sold to ride-hailing services, but Fields said that he expects Ford to offer the car to retail buyers "around mid-decade."

That's well behind the dates given by many rivals. Several big automakers have said that they expect to have a self-driving vehicle available for purchase at some point between 2019 and 2021. But Ford is putting a higher priority on something other than being first to market. 

Fields said that Ford's goal is to bring the costs of self-driving technology down to the point where the cars are affordable to mass-market buyers. "We're dedicated to putting autonomous vehicles on the road for millions of people, not just those who can afford luxury cars," Fields said. "We believe this next decade is really going to be defined by the automation of the automobile."

Fields is pushing Ford to out-disrupt Silicon Valley's "disruptors" 

Many analysts have suggested that the advent of fully autonomous vehicle technology could put a big dent in the traditional model of personal car ownership, as more and more people trade the hassles of owning (and storing, and parking, and maintaining) cars for the relative ease of an automated ride-hailing service. 

Ford's leadership team is very mindful of the potential for "disruption" offered by that and other technological changes being driven largely by players outside of the traditional auto industry. In response, Fields has moved aggressively to position Ford as a player in that emerging world of high-tech "mobility solutions." 

Some of that is mind-set: Fields and other Ford executives have made a point of describing the company as a provider of vehicles and personal mobility. But there has been plenty of action to back it up: Ford has announced significant investments in electric drivetrains and self-driving technology, and laid the groundwork for a not-too-distant future in which Ford customers will choose from a portfolio of "mobility solutions" ranging from urban bicycle rental to ride-hailing and car-sharing offerings -- or, of course, traditional vehicle purchases. 

Ford is blazing its own trail to the future

How does this latest announcement fit in? Fields promised to provide much more detail on Ford's self-driving plans during a conference with investment analysts scheduled for Wednesday. 

But it's another point in support of two things that are becoming clear about Ford under Fields' leadership: The Blue Oval has a plan to thrive in the high-tech future world of "mobility" -- and its plan is built on assumptions that differ from those being made at many of Ford's traditional rivals. 

How will Wall Street react to Fields' plans? How should Ford investors react? We'll know more on Wednesday. 

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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