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Ford launches autonomous-focused subsidiary, the other players gather

Also this week, Ford announced the launch of its Smart Mobility subsidiary, which will drive Ford’s connected car and autonomous vehicle projects. The company also recently announced trials of its vehicles in the snow, something that Volvo likely snorted derisively at thanks to its Scandinavian heritage,

Ford was widely expected to announce a partnership with Google at CES, which would have seen it supply self-driving cars to Google’s Uber rival service, which is still widely rumored to be continuing at pace. Google has its immense web presence to leverage when it comes to predicting consumer usage patterns, as well as its Maps division and the Android ecosystem. If Google’s ride-sharing app become a default Android app, that would be a fairly significant usage driver.

Fiat-Chrysler is the only Detroit giant to not yet announce a self-driving car strategy, although the burn incurred from the embarrassing Jeep hack might push a product announcement back a few quarters as the company waits for the stinging sensation to fade.

Toyota, a Japanese manufacturer with a very large North American presence, has also recently augmented its autonomous ambitions, by absorbing Jaybridge Robotics for an unnamed sum. However, the Jaybridge team will retain its focus on industrial vehicles, which might not immediately impact on Toyota’s consumer sales.

Apple’s electric car project has been branded the worst-kept-secret in Silicon Valley by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. For a while, it looked like Apple was interested only in the software, but as time has passed, it appears more likely that Apple is planning on releasing an electric vehicle – which might also have autonomous capabilities.

Whether an Apple car would be sold in the same manner as its current portfolio remains to be seen. Focusing on direct to consumer sales rather than a service-based model seems shortsighted, given the industry direction, but there will always be lucrative margins in premium products – and Apple currently has the brand name needed to make the luxury car brands seriously uncomfortable.

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