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New Ford CEO Jim Hackett speaks at an event in San Francisco in August 2017. Kelly Sullivan, Getty Images; inset: Ford Motor Co.

Ford CEO Tamps Down Expectations for First Autonomous Vehicles

Initial self-driving vehicles will have narrow applications.

Too much hype has built up about how soon self-driving cars will hit the road, but they will ultimately change the world, Ford Motor Co.’s chief executive officer said.

“We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” Jim Hackett said Tuesday at a Detroit Economic Club event. While Ford’s first self-driving car is still coming in 2021, “its applications will be narrow, what we call geo-fenced, because the problem is so complex.”

Hackett, 63, is engineering an $11 billion overhaul of Ford, which involves closing factories, cutting thousands of salaried jobs and ditching tradition sedans to focus on high profit sport-utility vehicles and trucks. In addition to shoring up profitability, the drastic moves are borne out of the pressure car companies are under to get autonomous-vehicle technology on the road before rivals inside and outside the auto industry.

“When we break through, it will change the way your toothpaste is delivered,” Hackett said at Ford Field, the football stadium of the Detroit Lions, owned by the family of Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “Logistics and ride structures and cities all get redesigned. I won’t be in charge of Ford when this is going on, but I see it clearly.”

Ford recently earned kudos from President Donald Trump for investing $900 million to build electric and self-driving cars in Michigan and $1 billion on two factories in Chicago to build Explorer SUVs. Hackett also is in talks with Volkswagen AG to jointly develop electric vehicles and driverless cars. The two automakers already have joined forces to build commercial vans and trucks.

“When we bring this thing to market, it’s going to be really powerful,” Hackett said. “There’s probably going to be alliance partners that we haven’t announced yet that will make it more certain that we don’t take on all the risks ourselves financially.”

By Keith Naughton

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