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Beyond the Robo-Taxi: Great Customer Experiences Will Define Self-Driving

Ford is focused on what it will take for customers to embrace the technology, trust us enough to take a ride, and keep coming back.

By Jim Farley, President, New Business, Technology and Strategy, Ford Motor Company

When most people talk about why autonomous vehicles will be successful, they tend to focus on the self-driving software alone. Don’t get me wrong, the self-driving system is incredibly important to develop, but it’s just one part of building a safe and scalable self-driving service that consumers can trust.

As we look to the initial launch of a commercial self-driving service in 2021, Ford is focused on what it will take for customers to embrace the technology, trust us enough to take a ride, and keep coming back.

Focusing on the customer experience is critical because the opportunities for Ford and the self-driving industry are massive. In the years to come, self-driving vehicles could help expand access to transportation, jobs and goods across numerous cities. At Ford, we know all of this is possible if you build a service — on top of the software — that provides an experience centered around the customer and the customer journey every step of the way.

As we ramp up our focus on tackling the customer-facing aspects of our self-driving service, we are excited to welcome Scott Griffith to the team at Ford Autonomous Vehicle LLC. Previously the CEO of Zipcar, Scott is taking on the critical role of leading the development and execution of our go-to-market strategy. His responsibilities will include further developing Ford’s autonomous vehicle brand and marketing, defining the customer experience and product attributes needed to deliver this vision, and building out the company’s fleet management and regional operations.

Scott is no stranger to the challenges of launching a new mobility service with large-scale operations. He spent more than a decade helping Zipcar become the largest car-share service in the U.S. Achieving that meant developing a new brand and a trusted service that drove a fundamental change in consumer behavior — transitioning urban dwellers from car ownership to car-sharing. Driving that kind of transformation is also fundamental to the adoption of self-driving vehicles and it involves many aspects of the business that haven’t been frequently discussed, including the launch and scaling of a self-driving service. This includes working with local municipalities, insurance providers, parking operators, first responders and many others to understand how a new self-driving service can be successfully deployed.

Fleet management is also a critical component to delivering an experience people will value and want to use again and again. Being able to operate a technology-enabled fleet with a high utilization rate and rapid recovery is critical for our self-driving service to become seen as trusted, reliable and efficient. This means developing a fleet management vision that delivers on customer expectations around cleanliness, maintenance, service recovery and durability of our self-driving vehicles. This is all essential to delivering the great customer experience that Scott’s team will be focused on building.

Finally, you have heard me talk about the importance of building a self-driving service that’s scalable — and where and how big you launch is key to this. Having deployed a similar strategy at Zipcar, Scott understands the importance of perfecting the customer experience and achieving scalability city by city before expanding nationally. Operating in a limited number of cities will enable us to nail the business model and customer experience and gain a comprehensive understanding of the collaboration needed to launch an entirely new service. This will make ramping up in the next dozen cities much less difficult.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to launching a self-driving vehicle or service. In fact, it is the hardest thing the auto industry has faced since people made the jump from horses to cars. We need people to trust our technology enough to get in the vehicle, and then to love the experience enough to come back. Alongside an excellent team at Argo AI that’s focused on the self-driving system and Ford engineers who know how to safely integrate advanced technology into vehicles, Scott and his team will keep us laser-focused on building a world-class service people embrace.