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Ford is going all in with a driverless car solution because it couldn't figure out how to keep the driver safely in the picture.


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The end of the automobile as a symbol of freedom and passionate driving enjoyment has begun.

Ford made a big move on Tuesday when it announced that it intends to unleash a fully autonomous vehicle for urban use by 2021.

The company's five-year-plan is a great leap forward for the automaker — cars that completely drive themselves, with no flesh-and-blood engagement whatsoever, have conventionally been regarded as a long way off.

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The announcement made in Silicon Valley by Ford CEO Mark Fields was couched in the transformational language he has brought to the automaker — he is presenting Ford as a mobility company first and foremost. Ford's global product head, Raj Nair, was also there, and he was tasked with delivering the good/bad news: Ford is going all in with a driverless solution because it couldn't figure out how to keep the driver safely in the picture.

We now have the traditional auto industry placing a clear bet when it comes to autonomy. Tesla's incremental approach, with self-driving features added gradually by software and hardware updates, won't cut it. Ford and General Motors, the latter with its Lyft partnership and its acquisition of Cruise Automation (a self-driving-technology startup), will use their manufacturing muscle to create big fleets of autonomous vehicles that will roam city streets.

This is essentially the Google Car future. And boy, is it ever boring.

The automaker that gave us the mighty Mustang and the Le Mans-winning Ford GT supercar — machines that tap directly into humanity's love of hot rides that decidedly do not drive themselves — is now styling itself as a future manager of an autonomous taxi service.

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But the end of the automobile as a symbol of freedom and passionate driving enjoyment has begun.

Intellectually, we knew this moment was coming. But the advent of Uber has accelerated the transition. At a valuation of more than $60 billion, Uber has in a few short years surpassed the individual market caps of both Ford and GM — companies over a century old.

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Weirdly, the big, traditional car-makers are ideally situated to capture a lot of profit from the massive shift. If driverless fleets will conquer the world's cities, then the companies that are in the best place to create those fleets aren't Uber, Lyft, or Tesla — they're the world's major automakers, who already build millions of basic vehicles every year that go straight into fleet use, with governments, institutions, and rental-car agencies.