Ford intends to launch self-driving car service ‘at scale’ by 2021

When industry giants look to new technology to grow and diversify their businesses, target dates for new platforms can often be missed.

Ford, however, seems determined to meet its 2021 deadline to launch a service in the United States using its self-driving cars. And it’s not talking about some small test operation in a single city — it wants to launch and operate its own service “at scale,” with all the necessary components in place to ensure it’s both efficient and profitable.

Speaking recently to the Financial Times, Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, noted that his company is already running tests in Miami, giving it a decent amount of time to hone its autonomous-car technology while developing its broader business model.

The Miami trial hit the streets in February and involves pizza delivery for Domino’s. More recently it partnered with Postmates for package delivery using its driverless vehicles in the same Florida city.

While Ford’s current ambitions focus on the delivery of items rather than people, the FT’s report suggests the American motor giant is actually developing a vehicle that can “carry people and cargo interchangeably,” suggesting it has an eye not only on the logistics market, but ridesharing, too.

Besides developing the autonomous technology to power its cars, a big part of Ford’s current work in Miami is learning about the kind of business model that works best for itself and its customers, as well as the most efficient way to keep its fleet of driverless vehicles maintained.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, said recently that his company is developing its very first “autonomous vehicle operations terminal” to maintain and securely house its vehicles.

The site, located a short distance from downtown Miami, is set to include facilities to wash the vehicles, including their all-important sensors, with routine maintenance also carried out.

“Before thousands of self-driving vehicles can hit the streets, we have to be prepared to manage large, high-tech fleets efficiently, and the steps we’re taking in Miami represent a significant stride in that process,” Marakby said.

In light of recent accidents denting the reputation of the technology, Ford and others will of course also need regulatory approval to launch businesses that use self-driving vehicles.

Ford’s determination to operate its own fleet of cars is in contrast to the likes of Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover, who have inked deals to sell their vehicles to the likes of Uber and Waymo, though similar to General Motors and Renault-Nissan, who want to operate their own services.

To help drive its autonomous-vehicle ambitions, Ford last year invested $1 billion in artificial intelligence company Argo A.I.