Ford is preparing to open an autonomous vehicle program in Austin as the automaker continues to ramp up testing ahead of launching a self-driving taxi and delivery service in 2021, according to sources familiar with the development.
A new job listing for an autonomous vehicles “market specialist” based in Austin validates the information. Austin is the fifth city to join the automaker’s testing program, which already includes Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.
Ford didn’t confirm or deny that Austin was the next city.
“We are on track to announce the next deployment city in which we plan to expand our self-driving technology and business testing efforts by the end of this year. We will provide more details at the appropriate time,” a Ford spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The job posting for an “autonomous vehicles market specialist” in Austin reads:
We are seeking exceptional candidates to join our growing Autonomous Vehicle (AV) business team! AVs are an important part of Ford’s future and we’re looking for the best and brightest. The role will require critical thinking, problem solving capabilities, and a “get it done” attitude to help make strategic decisions that will enable Ford to be a leader in autonomy, connectivity, mobility, analytics and customer experience.
Ford is a bit different from other companies that have launched autonomous vehicle pilots in the United States. The automaker is pursuing two parallel tracks that will eventually combine ahead of its commercial launch in 2021. The automaker is testing and homing in on what its AV business model might look like, while separately developing autonomous-vehicle technology.
Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based company into which Ford invested $1 billion in 2017, is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. Meanwhile, Ford is testing its go-to-market strategy through pilot programs with partners like Walmart, Domino’s and Postmates, and even some local businesses.
Ford will likely institute a similar rollout plan for Austin as it has in its previous cities. Argo AI first uses its AV vehicles to map the city. Meanwhile, Ford uses research vehicles to test various business cases, many of which have historically involved local companies.
Ford also opens terminals in each of the autonomous vehicle test program cities. These terminals, or operations centers, are where the AV test fleet vehicles will be stored. It also acts as a light maintenance facility and data center.
In the past, Ford has launched its mapping and testing before the terminal has been completed. It’s possible Ford will try to establish the autonomous vehicle operations terminal first, a slight departure from previous launches.
Ford has spent the past year ramping up its autonomous-vehicle program and plans to spend $4 billion through 2023 under an LLC created last year that’s dedicated to building out an autonomous-vehicles business.
Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC will house the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams. The $4 billion spending plan includes a $1 billion investment in startup Argo AI.
The new LLC is primarily based at Ford’s Corktown campus in Detroit and will hold Ford’s ownership stake in Argo AI, the company’s Pittsburgh-based partner for self-driving system development.