Ford chooses hybrid Escape for self-driving service, begins testing

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday said its Escape Hybrid crossover will serve as the architecture and platform to launch its autonomous vehicle service in the coming years.

The Dearborn automaker and its self-driving partner, Pittsburgh-based Argo AI, this month will begin testing the fourth-generation technology on the vehicles in several cities, including Detroit. The systems are "launch-intent," which means they have all of the components the company believes is needed to support commercial use.

Ford Motor Co. and autonomous-vehicle partner, Argo AI, will begin testing its fourth-generation technology on the Escape Hybrid crossover.

"What this means is that with a well-defined architecture and platform in the Escape Hybrid, our team can continuously test and refine performance over the coming years to better prepare us for launch," John Davis, chief engineer for Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, said in a statement. "Everything we learn while using them can be channeled directly into our self-driving service as soon as it starts serving customers."

Ford earlier this year said it was delaying the launch of its commercial self-driving services to 2022 from next year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic's impact on changing customer behaviors. Although people may be more cautious when it comes to ride-sharing and ride-hailing, demand for delivery of food and other products has increased, which Ford has said could affect how it launches its service. The automaker expects to invest more than $4 billion through 2023 on its self-driving business.

Robotaxis have been hitting U.S. roads. Earlier this month, Google-parent Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving company, Waymo LLC, began expanding its Waymo One driverless service in Phoenix to the general public after testing the technology with a select group since late 2018.

Ford and Argo's fourth-generation autonomous vehicles feature a new long-range light detection and ranging 128-beam system that provides a 360-degree field of view. Near-field cameras and short-range LiDAR also are added on the sides and back of the vehicle to help avoid blind spots and identify cyclists in bike lanes. Ford also added more battery cells to the vehicle to power the self-driving system and sensors, which also included an updated cleaning system.

The testing won't be the first time Ford has demonstrated self-driving technology on the Escape. In September, it wrapped up a month-long automated valet parking demonstration in the garage of Bedrock LLC's The Assembly mixed-use development in Corktown. The exhibition utilized Bosch infrastructure.

Ford and Argo will test their five-seater Escapes in Austin, Detroit, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., alongside Fusion Hybrid sedans that have been on the roads.

David added: "We’re confident that we’re on the path to launching a safe, reliable and affordable service."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble