Ford CEO: Self-Driving Cars Are Overhyped

Photo: Carlos Osorio (AP Images)
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Ford CEO tells everyone to settle down, more tit-for-tat tariffs (my favorite kind), a second appeal for Carlos Ghosn and more await you in The Morning Shift for Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

First Gear: Manage Your Expectations

Remember, just a few years ago, how automakers like Volvo said that it would have 100 self-driving cars on the road by the end of 2017? (That project wound up getting scaled back.) Uber famously promised hailable self-driving cars in 2016, but momentarily halted the project after a deadly accident in Arizona. Even Tesla and Google now say that they don’t have firm dates and situations for when and where cars can drive themselves.

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You can add Ford to that list of companies who are telling everyone to manage their expectations, too.

At a Ford event on Tuesday, Ford CEO Jim Hackett admitted, “We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.” according to Bloomberg. The outlet maintains that Ford’s “first self-driving car” is still on for 2021, but “its applications will be narrow, what we call geo-fenced, because the problem is so complex.”

Hackett also said:

“When we break through, it will change the way your toothpaste is delivered. Logistics and ride structures and cities all get redesigned. I won’t be in charge of Ford when this is going on, but I see it clearly.”

“When we bring this thing to market, it’s going to be really powerful. There’s probably going to be alliance partners that we haven’t announced yet that will make it more certain that we don’t take on all the risks ourselves financially.”

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Hackett has been catching shit for Ford’s poor profits last year. But he’s confident that 2019 is the year that the company will “turn the corner,” according to the Detroit News.

From the story:

The CEO said one of his goals for Ford is to make sure the business is ready for the next recession. He and his top executives have moved to trim production times and spending as part of an effort to make the automaker more competitive.

Meantime, Hackett said he tries to spend at least 20% of his time every week working on some of those futuristic problems Ford faces, such as autonomous vehicles. Hackett said autonomous vehicles have been over-hyped. Companies over-estimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles, Hackett said. Ford plans to launch its autonomous vehicle program in 2021 in a “narrow” application.

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The idea of geo-fencing isn’t new. In an email from January, a Ford autonomous vehicles spokesperson explained that the company’s immediate plan are to “only operate within a specific area” like, for instance, pizza delivery in the Miami area.

That being said, a human driver could activate an “autonomous mode” “as long as they were operating within an approved domain where the technology works.” Yet, the spokesperson also noted that “is a longer way off since the cost of the equipment for Level 4 capability will be very expensive for the foreseeable future, and thus ‘selling’ cars with autonomous capability for personal use does not make economic sense in the short term.”

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I take this to mean that an autonomous vehicle from Ford that can drive anywhere with you asleep in the driver’s seat is a long way off. Which is fine by me! I’ve always been in the “under-promise, over-deliver” camp. Especially here because people’s very lives and safety are at stake.

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Anyway, it is now 2019 and we are no closer to legally or safely getting a fully autonomous car on the road. And heck, maybe we never will. Making cars is hard! These things, when they do happen, take time and a lot of baby steps.

2nd Gear: Love Too Tariff

On top of the solar panel tariffs, washing machine tariffs and steel and aluminum tariffs, the U.S. and European Union are apparently totally down to impose “tit-for-tat tariffs” on each other’s exports as part of a 14-year spat over Boeing and the EU’s Airbus, according to the New York Times.

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In a tweet yesterday morning, Donald Trump said, “The World Trade Organization finds that the European Union subsidies to Airbus has adversely impacted the United States, which will now put Tariffs on $11 Billion of EU products! The EU has taken advantage of the U.S. on trade for many years. It will soon stop!”

Here’s the U.S. side of things:

In preparation for that decision, which is expected this summer, the United States announced Monday night that it was beginning to identify European products to tax, so it could impose the duties as soon as the organization ruled. The initial list would cover $11 billion of trade in products including airplanes, cheese, fish, wine, clothing, nails, pipes and clocks — the same dollar amount of harm that the United States trade representative estimated European subsidies cause each year.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action,” Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, said in a statement.

“Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the E.U. to end all W.T.O.-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft,” Mr. Lighthizer said. “When the E.U. ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

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Reps for the EU, of course, aren’t taking this lying down.

The European Commission indicated on Tuesday that it considers the $11 billion in retaliatory measures to be overblown and not justified by any findings by the World Trade Organization.

“The figure quoted by the U.S. trade representative is based on U.S. internal estimates that have not been awarded by the W.T.O.,” Daniel Rosario, a European Commission spokesman, said during a press briefing in Brussels Tuesday, reading from a prepared statement.

In a statement, Airbus called the American tariff announcement “totally unjustified” and said that the European Union would take “far larger countermeasures against the U.S.”

The European Commission has begun drawing up a list of products that would be covered by retaliatory tariffs, but is awaiting a W.T.O. decision before specifying which products would be targeted and how much trade they would encompass.

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At the center of all of this are Boeing and Airbus. And the 737 Max crisis certainly isn’t helping.

Basically, as the Times breaks it down, the U.S. has protested that the EU has given Airbus a lot of “launch aid” for new product development. This is apparently an unfair advantage because it allegedly gave Airbus a market advantage in Europe, Australia, China, South Korea and other places at the expense of Boeing.

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The Europeans, meanwhile, argue that U.S. aviation uses government research contract grants from the Department of Defense and NASA. They also get federal, state and local tax breaks.

Anyway, get your European cheese and clocks now before prices skyrocket.

3rd Gear: Second Appeal

Yesterday, ousted Nissan ex-chairman Carlos Ghosn released a video statement, in which he talked about “conspiracy” and “backstabbing.” Normal. Totally normal stuff.

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His defense lawyers are filing a second appeal after he was arrested again last Thursday over new allegations of using $5 million of Nissan’s money to enrich himself, reports Reuters.

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This is all after allegations of stuff like under-reporting almost $90 million in compensation, getting Renault to pay for his tacky wedding and maybe even getting Nissan to foot the bill for his kids’ Stanford tuition. Yeesh. How much more are we going to dig up?

4th Gear: A Little Late to the Game But Okay!

We’ve dragged Cadillac about this and now we’re going to do it to Infiniti. Infiniti’s first electric car will be made in China and is projected to launch in... three years. That is not that soon.

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The concept car on which it will be based will allegedly be called the Qs Inspiration electric sedan, reports Reuters. It’ll be shown at the Shanghai Auto Show this month. From the story:

“China has the most growth potential for electric vehicles globally, especially in the premium segment,” Infiniti Chairman Christian Meunier said in the statement seen by Reuters.

Automakers operating in China have to sell more so-called new-energy vehicles, either battery electric cars or plug-in electric hybrids, to comply with official production quotas designed to reduce smog.

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It’s not clear if there are plans to bring this Infiniti EV to other markets. But at least Infiniti has a concept car and a name for it, which is more than I can say for Cadillac. But three years out? When Tesla is in full swing, Audi is ready to launch the E-Tron and the Porsche Taycan is on its way?

If Infiniti pulls this off, I will be very impressed. After all, you know how I feel about it.

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5th Gear: Yay Lotus

What do you get when you are a struggling automaker like Lotus that is bought by Geely, which has very, very deep pockets? You get to build your cars in a brand-new assembly plant.

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Geely has begun construction on its $1.3-billion assembly plant in Wuhan, according to Automotive News Europe. From the story:

Lotus cars are built in Norfolk, England. The Wuhan factory will be Lotus’ first production site outside the UK.

The Wuhan plant will start production in two years. It will have the capacity to build 150,000 conventional and electrified vehicles annually, according to information the Hubei provincial government disclosed on its website. Aside from Lotus, it remains unknown what other vehicles the Wuhan factory will assemble from Geely.

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Save Lotus, Geely! Save it!

Reverse: Happy Birthday, Hertz

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Neutral: When Do You Think We’ll Finally Get an Autonomous Car?

Or do you think this is something that will never happen?

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About the author

Kristen Lee

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.