Shortly after news broke Wednesday afternoon that self-driving subsidiary Argo AI would be dissolved, Ford CEO Jim Farley took part in the company’s third-quarter conference call and spoke at length about how management reached the decision. “It is estimated that more than a hundred billion have been invested in the promise of level four autonomy,” he said during the call, “and yet no one has defined a profitable business model at scale.”
In short, Ford is focusing its investments away from the longer-term goal of Level 4 autonomy (that’s a vehicle that can navigate without human intervention, although manual steering is still an option) for the more immediate near-term gains in faster L2+ and L3 autonomy . L2+ is state of the art today, think Ford’s BlueCruise or GM’s SuperCruise technologies with hands-free driving on pre-mapped highway routes. L3 is where you board the vehicle and handle all safety-critical functions along these routes, not just steering and lane-keeping.
“Large-scale commercialization of L4 autonomy will take much longer than we previously anticipated,” Doug Field, Ford’s chief advanced product development and technology officer, said during the call. “L2+ and L3 driver assistance technologies have a larger addressable customer base, allowing for faster scaling and profitability.”
“It’s about putting that investment in a business that we think we’re going to generate a sizeable return on in the short term compared to one that’s going to have a long arc,” he added. The company has not provided a specific timeframe for potential completion, although Farley stressed that development of the foundational technologies required for Level 4 will not be gained quickly. “We don’t expect a single ‘Aha!’ Just like before,” he said.
Farley expects updated L2+ and L3 systems to roll out in the coming years, along with the company’s second cycle of electric vehicles in 2023-2025. “Ford is completely renewing its electric vehicle lineup globally, introducing fully upgradable electrical architectures and in-house software development to control the vehicle,” noted Farley.
Fields emphasized the importance of keeping much of the back-end functionality of these evolving ADAS technologies in-house. “We will have a core team that can integrate a system and understand its performance at a system level,” he said. “And we will own the software. It’s really important that we also have the connection to these vehicles. L3 is a connected technology, so the ability to have a pipeline that collects data and keeps making the system better – we have to have that.”
“It’s an issue that doesn’t really exist in L4, and it’s a huge opportunity for us to create a Ford experience that’s truly unique,” Fields said.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team independently from our parent company. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may receive an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at time of publication.