CARS.COM — It’s fair to say that unlike previous auto-industry bandwagons — from SUVs in the 1990s to hybrids in the 2000s — today’s arms race for self-driving cars signals some of the broadest changes to human transportation since the invention of the car itself. Take Ford, which has thrown a huge gauntlet with plans to build a fully self-driving car for commercial use in 2021. Now the Dearborn, Mich., automaker says driverless shuttles for its employees will be ready by 2018.
In a video posted online, the automaker said it will have the “largest fully autonomous test fleet of any automaker” with a collection of self-driving shuttles on its Michigan campus ready for 2018. A video showed a Fusion Hybrid with a quartet of whirring rooftop sensors that had the effect of deer antlers. USA Today reports Ford has 10 of the self-driving Fusion Hybrids right now but plans 20 more by 2018. They could be in high demand: As of last April, Ford’s campus was home to more than 30,000 employees.
How does the self-driving Fusion behave? USA Today sent a reporter for a spin — actually, it took her — and she reported the car has all the caution of a driver’s-ed student. The hand-built sedan follows the exact speed limit. It stops extra long for pedestrians. Pandora should create a new station, “Patience Radio,” for anyone following.
No doubt Ford will update a lot over the next two years. At that point, the automaker’s self-driving shuttles won’t be the first of their kind. Volvo and Uber announced a partnership to make self-driving XC90 SUVs available for ride hailing in downtown Pittsburgh later this year. Like today’s Ford Fusion prototypes, the XC90s will have a driver who can take over, should something fail. But Ford’s self-driving car for 2021 won’t have a steering wheel or pedals; it’s more akin to Google’s self-driving runabouts. And that’s just five short years away.