Ford launches its ‘bridge’ to a driverless future

In recent years carmakers have become reluctant to claim that ‘this is the best car ever built’ in a consumer market much more sophisticated and informed than it was before access to the wealth of data and expert opinion afford through the internet. Yet, Ford is once again making that bold, to some, even brazen claim for its new ‘fourth’ generation Focus midsize family car.

However, it’s not just the vehicle’s chassis, suspension and aerodynamics that are getting this old established automaker excited – it’s what this car represents to the brand in a driverless and connected future. During the car’s global launch at east London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, senior Dearborn factory executives repeatedly billed it as “the best car Ford has ever built” and a “technological bridge” between the carmaker’s products of today with its expected products of tomorrow.

Due to be launched in the European market later this year, the car boasts the most sophisticated range of ADAS technologies ever offered in a Ford including:

  • Adaptive cruise control now enhanced with stop and go, speed sign recognition and lane-centring;
  • Adaptive headlights with camera-based predictive curve light and sign-based light that pre-adjust lamp patterns for better visibility by monitoring bends in the road and road signs;
  • Active Park Assist 2 that now also operates gear selection, acceleration and braking to enable fully-automated manoeuvres;
  • Ford’s first head-up display to be offered in Europe;
  • CoPilot360 safety pack that incorporates automatic emergency braking, blind spot information system, reverse camera and automatic high beams. There’s also evasive steering assist that helps drivers steer around stopped or slower vehicles avoiding collisions.

Driving dynamics enhancements include continuously controlled damping technology for both independent front and rear suspension systems; new drive modes; an isolated rear sub-frame for greater refinement and Ford-patented spring technology. Cabin comforts include FordPass Connect embedded modem for connectivity on the move and a new wireless charging pad for compatible smartphone devices.

While this is all very impressive in itself for a mass-market product, it is what the vehicle represents for the brand aggressively plotting a business strategy to cope with some of the biggest upheavals the industry has seen since the horse-and-cart.

At the launch, Jim Farley, Ford’s executive vice-president and president of global market, made it clear that the Focus is the herald of this future strategy. Speaking exclusively to TU-Automotive Farley explained how the new Focus is seen as the bridge between Ford’s vehicles of the present with those it will be producing in the future. He said: “There are a couple of ways that it can: first of all with autonomy. This vehicle has a whole other level of autonomy that we’ve ever seen [on a mass market product] in terms of driver assist on the safety side, the CoPilot360, but also on the adaptive cruise control. Now it has lane keeping, it has full stop so, literally, hands off.


“The second aspect is connected services. This is a big deal because while anyone can put a modem in a vehicle but to have a suite of services that are connected to that, such as push a button and get your car washed at work or out shopping, those services based on that modem is going to be a big deal for us at Ford. The modem is really key for us offering over-the-air updates but also to have a portfolio of services.

“The drivetrain is also a really big move for Ford in mobility terms as we move to a 48-volt system for our petrol engines so you are starting to see the partial electrification of our entire volume fleet.”

Farley said a major component to Ford’s future strategy will be its special relationships with commercial partners. He explained: “We absolutely see more partnerships in the future and there is no better example of that than in Level 4 autonomy. We are quite far along with Argo and our Level 4 tech but the key part of this is the partnerships – we have a partnership with Lyft, we have partnerships with Postmates and even Domino’s Pizza. We have been delivering Domino’s Pizza with autonomous vehicles now for a while and, boy, have we learned a lot about people in apartment buildings, like what price do you have to discount for them to walk down and get the pizza from an autonomous vehicle? Also, where it stops is no small thing because there is no driver inside to get the goods to the customer. So those partnerships are now really important for autonomy.”

Autonomous fleet

Earlier Farley underscored the importance of the driverless car strategy that Ford is working on in terms of the carmaker’s future business prospects. He said: “We have devised an all-new self-driving business model as well as our traditional vehicles business. We’re thinking about a systems-based approach of moving people, of course with ride-hailing with autonomous vehicles, but also carrying goods.

“We also see our role in autonomy as serving humanity, those that don’t have access to mobility and that self-driving technology is at the heart of it all. Put simply, we’re not just thinking about autonomous vehicles, which many are talking about, but actually the fleet of autonomous vehicles – the whole network and a software platform that enables all kinds of different companies, even small local companies, to plug into that autonomous fleet of vehicles.

Farley said Ford’s autonomous testing programme is advancing at pace. “This year is a really big year for Ford testing those self-driving vehicles. We are already running Level 4 AV trials in Pittsburgh in the US and, separately our first launch city, Miami.”

Ford Mobility Cloud

He stressed that Ford must have a business model every bit as robust as its technological offer. Farley said: “We are also driving not just the autonomous tech but, actually, the business model itself. We’re working with partners and we’re operating driven vehicles as if they are autonomous vehicles to learn how customers interact with autonomy. The autonomous vehicles are just one piece of the picture. Ford is also working with partners to develop the first transportation Cloud for the cities. Our Transportation Mobility Cloud will unlock the power of connecting components to all levels of the city transport system. Again, we are building a system to be open for everyone.”

He concluded: “At the same time we are working on a smart world, we are working on vehicles that are connected. They’re not just connected with each other but each of them is a small component in the city talking to cyclists and even traffic signals. This total connectivity is key to managing kerb space in a city, optimising traffic flow and unclogging the streets where we all live. This whole story takes a major step forward today.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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