The COVID-19 pandemic is creating many problems for the car industry, and that extends to Ford’s self-driving taxis. While discussing its quarterly earnings, the company revealed that its autonomous vehicle services have been delayed from 2021 to 2022. In a statement to TechCrunch, it said it needed to “evaluate” the effect of COVID-19 on customer behavior and potentially change its strategy. It also wanted to offer future users “peace of mind” knowing that they and their packages would be safe.
Ford COO Jim Farley warned during the earnings call that the pandemic could influence society for “many years to come,” with people seeking out more ways to avoid unnecessary human contact. Chief executive Jim Hackett cited what happened in China as an example, noting that a third of car sales moved online as a result of the pandemic. Fundamental changes like these could spur adoption of driverless taxis and couriers, but could also require adjustments to everything from capacity to the involvement of humans.
Some things will remain on track. VW’s promised $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI, the company developing Ford’s self-driving platform, is still moving forward. The partners behind the technology are still onboard — it’s just a question of acknowledging the new reality.