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Ford goes all in on autonomous vehicles with new factory

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Ford hasn’t shied away from the prospect of robo-cars.

Back in 2017, Ford brought on autonomous vehicle startup Argo AI to develop a self-driving program with plans to provide a self-driving taxi service in several cities by 2021. It’s been testing in Miami, Washington, D.C., Detroit, and maybe soon in Austin. Its cars can be spotted testing autonomous food deliveries in Miami. Autonomous pizza, anyone?

Ford cars were even used early in Uber’s self-driving program back before Volvo brought in thousands of its vehicles, including one that was involved in last year’s fatal crash in Arizona.

On Wednesday, the company announced a new autonomous vehicle factory (or “manufacturing center”) in Michigan, part of a $900 million investment in the region. The factory is an even bigger sign that the auto company wants be part of autonomous technology. It’s supposed to be up and running by 2021, in time for that Ford taxi service to offer autonomous rides.

Along with producing more electric vehicles with the investment, the factory plans to take hybrid Fords and make them specifically for self-driving with cameras, sensors, and computers and a “unique interior.” The cars would be for a taxi service and also for transporting groceries or food deliveries. So instead of modifying cars to be self-driving ready, these cars would be made with self-driving as the main, original purpose of the vehicle.

The factory investment shows one of the ways companies like Ford (meaning traditional car manufacturing businesses) such as BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo, Honda, Toyota and many others are figuring out how to catch up or be part of the autonomous vehicle conversation. Car companies, startups, and other investors have put in more than $100 billion to develop self-driving technology.

Earlier this year Ford and Volkswagen floated an alliance to make cars for each other — including self-driving vehicles (eventually). Some of those cars could be made at this factory in the coming years.

Also this week, Russian company Yandex partnered with Hyundai. Now its self-driving car division will have a steady vehicle supply, while getting Hyundai deeper into self-driving technology. The companies plan to make a driverless prototype based on a Hyundai or Kia car.

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