Ford says AVs are "one of the solutions" to growing urban mobility problems (Photo: Ford)

Safety, reliability and the consumer experience are crucial and arguably more important than the technology, as the industry works to build driverless cars, Ford Motor says in a new report.

“We don’t believe that the central challenge in the development of self-driving vehicles is the technology,” the US carmaker said in a 44-page report that outlines its approach to autonomous vehicle development. “It’s trust. Trust in the safety, reliability and experience that the technology will enable.”

Ford wants to have a self-driving vehicle ready for deployment in 2021. Most other automakers also plan to launch highly-automated vehicles early in the next decade.

Ford’s report comes at a time when customer acceptance of the new technology continues to be a concern for the auto industry. Several high-profile accidents with driverless test vehicles in recent months have done little to reduce people’s anxiety about leaving the driving to computers.

Nevertheless, the mobility industry expects driverless cars to play a crucial role in creating viable transportation options for an increasingly urbanized world.

“New technologies can enable solutions to help city transportation systems improve the quality of life for everyone,” Ford said in the new document, which it calls a “voluntary safety self-assessment report.” Self-driving vehicles are “one of the solutions,” it said.

Ford makes clear that, like the rest of the industry, it is referring to so-called Level 4 autonomy when it talks about driverless cars. That means the cars will be able to operate autonomously within a specific geographic area and during appropriate weather conditions.

The carmaker also said its self-driving cars, which won’t have steering wheels or brake pedals, won’t initially be sold to customers. Instead, Ford envisions them to be used by ride-hailing services and in goods delivery.

Ford doesn't play down the technology challenges that remain as automakers push to launch Level 4 driverless cars. In its report, the company lists a wide array of AV requirements that need to be met. Among them are protection from cyber attacks, crashworthiness, full redundancy of all systems and the seamless software-powered cooperation between all hardware and sensors.

By Arjen Bongard