On October 27, Ford Motor hired Laura Merling as the new Vice President of Autonomous Vehicle Solutions at Ford Smart Mobility, with the intention of bringing self-driving cars to the market over the next five years.
Ford Smart Mobility is a subsidiary of Ford Motors focused on shifting from autonomous research and development to a full-scale business model. Laura Merling, who was recently appointed as the Vice President of Ford, plans to take the lead in the commercialization of autonomous vehicles and undergo the development of their own brand of autonomous car-sharing. According to her LinkedIn resume, Merling has experience in “defining and bringing new products to market and redefining business models.” Merling has served in advisory roles for various startups working on IoT connectivity, machine learning, and digital manufacturing. It’s the experience she’s gained in these roles that will be vital in leading the commercialization of autonomous vehicles.
Merling has quite a task in front of her. In August 2016, Ford announced plans to produce self-driving cars for commercial ride-sharing or on-demand taxi services by 2021. The company’s goal is to develop a Level 4 fully autonomous vehicle. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, a Level 4 classification requires a car to handle all aspects of driving in limited conditions or driving modes-in other words, a car can operate in certain environmental conditions or a specific area of a city. This is just one classification below the highest. The highest classification according to the SAE is Level 5, which is when a car can handle all driving tasks in all road and environmental conditions normally controlled by a human.
Ford’s five year plan involves expanding the company’s focus beyond selling cars. Ford CEO Mark Fields has stated that he sees vast revenue potential in the car-sharing and ride-hailing market, with the real innovation beginning when ride-sharing and autonomy are combined.
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