Ford Motor Company wants to gain an edge in the driverless car competition. In addition to the rollout of driverless Ford Fusions working for Uber in Pittsburgh, the company is working with Chinese search engine company Baidu to invest in Velodyne, a company working on sensors that guide autonomous automobiles.
California-based Velodyne plans to use the investment – valued at $150 million – to “expand design and production” of its sensors while hoping to reduce the cost of production. These sensors are called “Lidar” for light, detection, and ranging.
According to Ford, this tech is vital to the further development of self-driving cars. Baidu wants to develop self-driving cars in China, where road congestion is a severe issue, especially in larger cities.
In comments to media sources, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the partnership with Baidu and Velodyne will help Ford reach its autonomous goals, something Fields says is a necessary step forward.
“Autonomous vehicles could have just as much significant impact on society as Ford's moving assembly line did 100 years ago…”
From a PR perspective, the reference back to Henry Ford’s revolutionary use of the assembly line at Ford Motor plants connects the Ford brand with industry innovation and forward thinking. It’s a confidence building commentary for industry watchers wondering who will gain the early lead in the march toward driverless cars.
Ford hopes people will see Ford making moves and think, ‘of course it would be Ford, innovation is what they do.’
The assembly line story is legendary in American lore. It’s the catalyst that enamored cars to the American public in the first place because it enabled average workers to be able to afford a family automobile, something that was unheard of just a few years before Henry started cranking them out.
That production led to a century-long love affair between Americans and their cars, which, arguably, peaked in the 60s with “surf music” and the 70s, when big block super performers were all the rage.
These days those Boomers still love their cars, but their kids and grandkids tend to view automobiles as more utilitarian than status symbols or extensions of personality. Millennials, in fact, might be the most underwhelmed generation where cars are concerned to come along in a century. They are waiting to get driver’s licenses longer and opting for Uber and Lyft over owning a vehicle more often.
So, is Ford leading a cultural shift or responding to it? An argument can be made for both sides, but the more important question is, will they succeed?