Ford Mobility News: Self-Driving Car Tests in DC, Avis App Deal

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

Ford made a couple of announcements this week regarding mobility and its efforts to get self-driving cars on the road.

According to a blog post published Monday by Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford’s autonomous vehicle division, the automaker will expand testing of driverless cars to Washington, DC.

“Not only do self-driving vehicles need to operate safely and reliably, but they also need to work in concert with the businesses, people, and cities they serve,” Marakby wrote. “On top of all this, they must operate within an ecosystem that supports their operation and maintenance. As Ford’s work in all those areas continues in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Miami, we are expanding to become the first company to test autonomous vehicles in Washington, DC.”

Marakby said in his post that Ford will continue its work with partner Argo AI to map all eight wards of the District and gather data that will help improve how the vehicles get around. Over the next year, he wrote, the fleet will grow as Ford expands areas of testing, including within the city’s downtown core. To manage the fleet of vehicles on the ground, Ford has established an autonomous vehicle operations terminal in the District’s Ward 5. In Ward 8, Sherif said Ford will collaborate with the DC Infrastructure Academy, a workforce training center launched earlier this year by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

“We are looking to train a roster of vehicle operators, who will be responsible for safely operating and monitoring our test vehicles on public roads and on closed courses throughout the development process,” Sherif wrote. “Additionally, we will work to train residents for auto technician careers that could involve self-driving vehicles in the future. This training will be through courses developed by Excel Automotive in Ward 7 and Ford’s Automotive Career Exploration program, with support from local dealers Chesapeake Ford Truck, DARCARS, and Sheehy Ford of Marlow Heights.”

The city’s long-term plan calls for it to become a test bed for self-driving vehicles and connected technology, Sherif wrote. To that end, the nation’s capital is part of the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles and is the first city to conduct pilots with food delivery bots, he said.

Of course, setting up shop where the federal government is headquartered also means legislators will be able to see autonomous vehicles in action, which Ford hopes will ease the process of creating standards and safety regulations. “It’s important that lawmakers see self-driving vehicles with their own eyes as we keep pushing for legislation that governs their safe use across the country,” Sherif said.

In other Ford news: This week, rental car company Avis announced an agreement with Ford Commercial Solutions, which manages the automaker’s fleet operations, to connect more than 35,000 Ford vehicles in Avis’s U.S. fleet.

According to a press release, Avis customers with connected Ford cars will be able to manage their entire rental experience through the Avis mobile app. The Ford vehicles will also provide real-time telemetry data to Avis fleet managers, including odometer, fuel level, and vehicle condition updates, allowing them to process information faster.

Avis said it expects more than 10,000 Ford vehicles in the Avis fleet to be connected by the end of 2018, and more than 35,000 by summer 2019.