Ford Autonomous Vehicles CEO on Consumer Trust

By Collin Robisheaux |  June 30, 2021

Ford’s autonomous vehicles are rolling out for testing in certain cities across the United States. Powered by sensors placed around the car, Ford’s autonomous vehicles are self-driving – and CEO Scott Griffith says they’re preparing to reach new cities and climates.

“We’re testing right now in Miami, Austin, Washington D.C., and here in Detroit,” Griffith explained. “We’ve got currently about 100 vehicles spread across those markets… Miami and Austin will be our two biggest launch markets, frankly, for weather and other reasons.”

Griffith oversees two separate units of Ford’s mobility initiative: one for autonomous vehicles, and the other for mobility businesses, including Uber. Griffith sat down with Tom Eisenmann of Harvard Business School as part of our recent Charting the Future event to discuss the future of the mobility industry. Key takeaways from the conversation follow.

Trends in Mobility

  • Micromobility sees an upswing in cities as pandemic declines. Scooters and bicycles available for hourly rentals have been attractive options for city-dwellers who may not own a car. “I think micromobility in cities is…the third wave [of mobility] right now,” Griffith said. “When in the first month or two of [the COVID-19 pandemic], we lost I mean, we lost the business, it went to zero. Nobody was outside, nobody was touching anything. It was the first thing to come back.”
  • Car ownership in the United States may have peaked, and new forms of mobility are on the rise. With increased use of ride-sharing services and car rental offerings, some experts are seeing a plateau in the market. “We’ve hit peak car ownership now in this country, and we’re seeing it trend up in some of the developing economies like China, India, and others,” Griffith said. “But I think we really hit peak car in the US, and we’re seeing these other modes of transport coming in.”
  • Autonomous vehicles begin hitting the road. With delivery options for shopping and dining becoming more popular over the last year, a noticeable opportunity for autonomous vehicles has opened. “Autonomous is the next wave. As these vehicles come in, you look at what’s happened over the last 14 to 15 months. Everything that had to do with moving goods — either prepared foods, groceries, and even now Gopuff, for example…it’s all being moved by small vehicles, and in some cases, bicycles and cities or in more urban areas. And that can all be autonomous,” Griffith said. “And so that’s the world we’re all moving to now.”

Developing and Earning Consumer Trust

To increase adoption of self-driving vehicles, Ford has focused on building public and consumer trust. Griffith says the process has involved introducing customers to semi-autonomous features, before rolling out fully autonomous test vehicles.

“I think as we see the consumer buying vehicles that have those kinds of semi-autonomous features — crash detection, lane-keeping, backup assistance, all sorts of things that are on a lot of vehicles now,” Griffith said, “they’re just naturally getting more comfortable with technology being part of your riding ride experience.”

Ford’s partnership with Argo, a company focused on building self-driving technology, has helped develop and test technology in these vehicles. With Ford’s latest autonomous models expected to roll out to warmer cities such as Miami and Austin, Griffith said that Ford has looked to other companies in the transportation space as a model for building consumer trust.

“Vehicle safety for riders has become a potential differentiator. And we’ve been starting to work with a wonderful partner, Delta Airlines,” Griffith said. “Delta has cracked the case on how to differentiate using safety and security…and so we’ve taken a lot of pages from their book, and have learned a lot about how the consumer reacts to fairly simple safety measures that are very visible that you can see. … We’ve been starting to look at that in-vehicle and experience for autonomy. And it’s been very helpful.”