Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields said that an automaker probably will introduce a self- driving vehicle within half a decade, but it won’t be his company, which is focusing on less expensive features that assist in driving.
“Fully autonomous vehicles are a real possibility,” Fields said at a Jan. 5 dinner with analysts and journalists on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “Probably, in the next five years, you’ll see somebody introduce autonomous vehicles.”
Automakers are racing to develop self-driving cars that safely transport commuters in congested urban areas. At the same conference, Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche unveiled the Mercedes-Benz F 015, a concept car that can autonomously move people.
If Ford’s forecast comes true, consumers may someday be able to buy a vehicle without a steering wheel or brake pedals that would operate in auto-pilot mode, driving more efficiently and reducing traffic jams. In the meantime, automakers are seeking a piece of the $11.3 billion in factory-installed technologies going into cars this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
The F 015 Mercedes concept car has four seats, including the driver’s, that can face each other, rather than the road, Daimler said in Las Vegas.
Sculpted open-pore walnut wood veneers and ice-white leather add to the chill-out ambiance of the interior, while six screens allow passengers to monitor information about the vehicle and the outside world and interact with the machine via touch, hand gestures and eye-tracking.
“The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space,” said Dieter Zetsche, chief executive officer of Mercedes parent Daimler AG. He presented the vehicle at the show in Las Vegas.
The so-called Luxury in Motion prototype is part of an effort by upscale automakers to counter Google Inc.’s push for self-piloting cars as big-city congestion makes the thrill of driving less of a selling point. Audi tried to show that automation and performance can go hand in hand last year when it showed an unmanned RS7 driving at racing speeds.
Mercedes plans to bring some of the technology in the futuristic prototype to the streets soon, offering an option for automated highway driving before the end of the decade. The feature will allow the vehicle to steer itself at speeds as fast as 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour. That would follow the Stop&Go Pilot that takes control in traffic jams and is already being rolled out in vehicles from the C-Class sedan to the S- Class.
“We have a master plan in place to take the big leap required getting from technically feasible to commercially viable,” Daimler’s Zetsche said yesterday in Las Vegas. “The F 015 Luxury in Motion demonstrates where this may take us.”
Instead of being the first to sell autonomous vehicles, Ford wants to “democratize” technology that assists drivers throughout its model line, offering it at prices even economy- car buyers can afford, Fields said. That includes features that can automatically park a car, steer it back into its lane and brake to avoid collisions.
“You can go into a dealership and get a Ford Focus that can park itself right now,” Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief, said of the automaker’s compact car that starts at $16,810. “If you want to go to the full extreme -- full autonomy -- literally a vehicle that has no steering wheel and has no pedals, that’s a tremendous technical challenge, but one that we believe that in the next five years will be possible.”
General Motors Co. said in September it will introduce hands-free driving technology on a Cadillac in two years. GM CEO Mary Barra said at the time that having a car drive for you is “true luxury.”