Photo: AP

Only one-in-four Americans trust the idea of self-driving cars right now, and among that group is Ford’s newly-installed chief executive, Jim Hackett. Ford may be working to deploy a fully-autonomous car on public roads by 2021, but Hackett said Monday that he wouldn’t ride in one just yet, according to Automotive News.

In an environment where it’s not unusual for hyperbole to fly freely, Hackett’s more-subdued approach to self-driving cars is notable, but his comments underscore the lengths automakers will have to go to convince people to get in a robotcar.

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Hackett’s comments Monday do come with a few caveats. Generally, self-driving car tests are conducted with a safety engineer onboard to resume control of the wheel, if needed. It’s not clear if Hackett meant that scenario, or a fully-autonomous car without a driver at the wheel—which Ford’s hoping to deploy in limited circumstances by the start of next decade, particularly for ride-hailing purposes in well-defined areas.

But I imagine at least some of Ford’s self-driving car engineers took it as a sleight. Here’s more from Automotive News:

Hackett, speaking at a breakfast lecture series at Grand Valley State University, polled the audience by asking how many participants would not get in a self-driving car today if given the chance. About a quarter of the room raised their hands.

“The trust isn’t real high,” he said. “I wouldn’t yet, either.”

Hackett later said he wouldn’t be comfortable in one today, but would be “very soon.”

Hackett took over Ford in May, after the automaker’s board of directors unceremoniously ousted then-CEO Mark Fields, who struggled to keep pace with competitors in the industry’s push toward electrification and automation. Ford invested $1 billion in autonomous tech startup Argo AI, but the company’s efforts in the field—at least publicly—have been eclipsed by competitors.

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But Ford has taken some strides as of late that appear to better position it for the company’s 2021 automation goal. Last week, it announced a partnership with Lyft to develop self-driving cars for the ride-hailing network.

Hackett’s comments in Michigan on Monday come ahead of planned meetings with unions and Wall Street investors about his future vision for Ford.

“I haven’t done a damn thing yet,” Hackett reportedly said, “but I have some ideas.”