Ford’s self-driving commercial services to launch with Escape hybrids


DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday for the first time acknowledged what type of vehicle it will use to launch its self-driving commercial services in 2022: an Escape hybrid.

The automaker in a blog post said it will start rolling out Escape hybrids as its fourth-generation autonomous test vehicle in the coming months. The previous three generations of test vehicles utilized the Fusion sedan, which has been discontinued.

The Gen 4 test vehicles include new near-field cameras that face the front and side, both long- and short-range lidar sensors and new features to keep the sensors clean.

“The systems we’re incorporating into our newest test vehicles are ‘launch-intent’ in terms of the components we believe will be needed to support commercialization,” John Davis, chief engineer of Ford AV, said in a statement. “What this means is that with a well-defined architecture and platform in the Escape hybrid, our team can continuously test and refine performance over the coming years to better prepare us for launch. Everything we learn while using them can be channeled directly into our self-driving service as soon as it starts serving customers.”

Ford’s AV commercial services will be focused on the delivery of packages and other goods. The timeline was pushed back roughly a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Ford spokesman said its test fleet consists of roughly 100 Fusions spread across six cities. Ford will continue to test the Fusions alongside the new Escape hybrids, although it’s unclear how large the test fleet will grow.

The company, in partnership with startup Argo AI, has been testing AVs in Miami, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Calif., and Austin, Texas. It had announced Washington, D.C., Austin and Miami would be launch markets.

CEO Jim Farley previously said Ford would use a “ground-up AV” rather than a converted version of something in its lineup. A Ford spokesman said Tuesday the automaker still plans to deploy a purpose-built AV but will launch its services with the Escape hybrid. Ford has said it would focus on hybrid vehicles first because of their range and potential for high utilization.

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