Ford, Google in talks to build driverless cars together



It could turn out to be the deal of the century in the auto world, as Ford and Google engage in talks to collaborate on building a fleet of self-driving cars. Industry observers are saying that this could help the American automaker leapfrog the competition, from where it is lagging behind, as it would be able to learn from the tech giant, which is arguably ahead of the mad rush to produce driverless cars for the public road.

For Google, the benefit would be that Ford would help it build a “normal car”, not like the blob of a car it has now. Ford would be able to incorporate the complex equipment – including lidar, radar, camera sensing, computer and electronic systems – into a purpose-built vehicle, which design is intended to accommodate all these extras.

The talks are still in progress, but are expected to be wrapped up over the year-end break and be announced as early as 4 January, at the International Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas. Both companies have remained mum about the deal.

While Ford could base the new Google vehicle on one of its existing platforms, it is expected that the project would start from scratch. Even so, with the company’s experience, expertise and existing facilities, it would be able to produce a finished vehicle – from idea to production – much quicker than if Google went at it alone. Ford’s long history in automotive production means it already possesses strong manufacturing, distribution and customer networks, as well as a credible reputation for safety; not to mention that Google would save billions by bypassing many stages of development by leveraging on Ford’s know-how, and focusing on what it does best – developing software.

The 53 bubble cars, which Google has been using to showcase/test its driverless technology on the roads of California and Texas, were assembled by Roush Enterprises, which coincidentally (or not?) is a longtime supplier of Mustangs to Ford.

In the automotive arena, there is no lack of competition revving up to produce the first self-driving vehicle. Tesla is already testing its Autopilot technology on the road using its Model S, and Cadillac is but a year from launching its Super Cruise feature in its CT6 sedan. Other carmakers – like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW – have already boasted of self-driving technology in their new models.

With this new Google-Ford partnership however, they could dominate the self-driving vehicle market. Would Google be as generous as Tesla or will it safeguard its IP and prevent others from inventing similar vehicles? Other automakers and technology inventors had better start rushing to partner up as well, if they want to avoid being sidelined as the automotive market shifts increasingly toward a driverless one.

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