Weekly Brief: Ford vows to produce mainstream robot car by 2021

A century ago Ford revolutionised the automotive industry with the advent of the assembly line and its first mainstream product, the Model T. Fast forward a hundred years and Ford is ready to pull off the feat again — this time with the introduction of the first mainstream autonomous car.

The company announced last week that it will have a self-driving car for the masses on the road by 2021. To get there, Ford is investing in or collaborating with four start-ups to enhance its autonomous vehicle development. The first of these is a $75M (£57.2M) investment in LiDAR maker Velodyne. Ford also says that it will double its Silicon Valley team to 300 people and more than double its Palo Alto campus to include 90 autonomous cars (up from the present 30).

What makes this remarkable coming from the mouth of a major carmaker, rather than a tech company like Google or Apple, is that Ford is promising a fully autonomous car without a steering wheel or pedals. The company won't divulge what the car will look like or what it will be called (Model A would be perfect, if Ford hadn't used it for the Model T's successor way back in 1927) but we do know that Ford is targeting the ride hailing and ridesharing industries.

The question now becomes which ridesharing company Ford is most likely to partner with. General Motors hooked up with Lyft earlier this year and just this last week Uber announced a major partnership with Volvo. Per the agreement, Volvo will build a base car that will be able to incorporate the latest developments in ADAS technologies, up to and including fully autonomous driverless cars. Uber will then purchase these cars from Volvo. Both are contributing a combined $300M to the project. The first generation will include the autonomous driving technology that Uber has been developing during the past few years.

Uber didn't stop there. It followed up its Volvo announcement with news that it had acquired start-up Otto, which was founded by for veterans of the Google self-driving car project and came out of stealth mode in May with a self-driving truck kit for $30,000. Uber didn’t explain its intentions but just made a vague statement that partnership is key to advancing its self-driving car ambitions. It’s hard to read this news as anything other than a clear signal that Uber wants in on the trucking industry. Otto will receive 1% of Uber, valued at $680M.

A decade after the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, BP is still synonymous with environmental neglect and degradation. Volkswagen is hoping to avoid a similar fate following its diesel emissions software scandal. Last month the company unveiled plans to build 30 new all-electric vehicles by 2025, at a pace of 2M to 3M a year. Last week the company announced that a prototype for the first of these cars will debut at the Paris Motor Show next month. The EV will be a fusion of the VW Golf and Passat and have a range of roughly 300 miles on a single charge.

AT&Ttook aim at its telecommunications rival Verizon with the launch of AT&T Fleet Complete. The GPS-based fleet management solution can be customised with a focus on fleet usage, asset tracking or dispatch communication and will debut as a programme addition to the AT&T Partner Exchange. Game on, Verizon Telematics.

Automaticlaunched its latest aftermarket device, a dongle that plugs into the OBDII port of any car manufactured after 1996 and has unlimited 3G connectivity. That means that it can track your car, alert you to diagnostic problems, analyse gas consumption and send automatic notifications to emergency responders — all without draining data or drawing WiFi from your smartphone. Retail for the Automatic Pro is $129.99.

Finally, don’t you just love to time a green light right, accelerating off the block and through the intersection before the unsuspecting turtle in the next lane over has time to hit the accelerator? If so, buy an Audi. The company announced that starting in 2017, the Q7 and A4 models would be equipped with vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology that will reveal precisely when a light is about to turn green. V2I specialist Traffic Technology Services (TTS) is helping Audi with the solution, which will debut as part of the Audi Connect PRIME package.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry press releases.

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