Autonomous

One year in, here's how Ford's Austin, Texas autonomous drive program is going

Ford continues to test self-driving vehicles in Austin, Texas.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company approached the end of 2019 with a sense of optimism for the future. They had just unveiled the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E and the hotly-anticipated debuts of the new Ford Bronco, Bronco Sport, and redesigned F-150 were on the immediate horizon.

Between then and now, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and Ford Motor Company switched CEOs. All the while, the automaker has been testing autonomous vehicle technology in Austin, Texas.

The company has made strides in the last year, which Kathleen Baireuther, Austin Market Manager, Ford Autonomous recently detailed the progress of the company in a blog post on Medium.

Ford Austin Texas Autonomous Self-Driving Ford expanded its self-driving vehicle operations to Austin lat year. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford has opened an autonomous vehicle terminal in East Austin and created a command near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, in close proximity to where Tesla recently began constructing the plant that will produce its Cybertruck. The terminal serves as a base for the self-driving test fleet.

Baireuther sees the proper maintenance of the fleet as a part of creating a service that people value, from the use of the models to the deep cleaning and maintenance. When the service is used, the fleet grows closer to making a profit. She shared, "We recently completed the first phase of a fleet operations pilot in Austin that will be utilized for our business in Austin and Ford's broader strategy."

The command center will serve as the "epicenter" of Ford's self-driving business and daily operations. It will house local customer relations, business development, research, safety evaluations and testing operations.

The company continues to be focused on safety. While stories of owners continually trusting their hands-on Tesla AutoPilot technology to drive their vehicles hands-free, Ford and other companies are cognizant of ensuring their test vehicles work within a set of limitations to ensure safety for passengers and those inhabiting the space surrounding the vehicle.

Part of keeping everyone safe is helping vehicles and their operators understand the parameters for use. This includes the landscape. Ford has partnered with Argo to create 3D maps of the streets where the vehicles are used including detailed information about lane geometry, sidewalk locations, bike lanes, traffic signals, street signs, speed limits and static landmarks.

These maps are updated when construction or foliage changes. In Austin, a city that is rapidly expanding and changing, these changes are frequent.

Following the mapping process, the Argo team began operating the vehicles on public roads in autonomous modes. This means confronting the construction changes but also the daily scenarios that conflict with autonomous operation. For instance, Austin has more scooter activity than Ford has encountered in its other test cities - Washington D.C. and Miami, Florida. There's also a good amount of pedestrians and cyclists.

Ford is committed to continuing its self-driving vehicle testing in various areas of the city including East Austin, South Congress, and downtown, including the University of Texas.

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Custom SUVs

Ford Bronco to rule SEMA this year

The Bronco RTR features a fun livery and several off-road upgrades.

Ford

The annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show is an opportunity for the aftermarket and manufacturers to come together on wildly customized vehicles and to show off the latest parts and tech in the space. Now that the Ford Bronco has finally made its way to the public, it's not surprising to see several wild SEMA takes on the hottest SUV to hit the market in some time.

2021 Bronco by Tucci Hot Rods The tracks are said to improve the Bronco's abilities in deep snow and ice.Ford

2021 Bronco by Tucci Hot Rods

The new Bronco is capable and rugged on its own, but Tucci Hot Rods felt it needed more. The shop gave it that boost with a set of tracks in place of wheels, which are said to be great for deep snow and ice. This Bronco features a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and a seven-speed manual transmission to go with its Mattracks 88-Series quad tracks.

2021 Bronco RTR Fun-Runner by RTR Vehicles

Vaghn Gittin Jr's RTR Vehicles imagined a Bronco package that could be installed at the dealer. The result is the Fun-Runner, which features several Ford Performance and Ford Licensed Accessories parts. It's based on a 2021 two-door Bronco Badlands, and comes with an eye-catching wrap, an Ultimate Dana 44 front axle, Ultimate Dana 60 semi-float rear axle, RCV Performance CV axles, and a performance intake for its four-cylinder engine.

2021 Bronco by BDS Supensions SEMA presents an excellent opportunity for shops to show off their skill and imagination.Ford

2021 Bronco by BDS Supensions

BDS is a subsidiary of Fox Shocks and has worked with Ford for quite some time. The results of that long-running relationship are on display with the BDS Bronco, which features Fox 2.5 PES coilovers, BDS rear adjustable control arms and track bar, swaybar disconnect, and 37-inch BFGoodrich KM3 tires. The Bronco's bumpers have been replaced with CrawlTek Revolution units that feature a recessed winch mount, recovery hooks and more.

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Ford EV manufacturing

Ford plans new plants in Tennessee and Kentucky

Ford's new TN facility may be one of the largest in U.S. history.

Ford

Earlier this year, Ford outlined its plans for significant investments in electric vehicle development and construction. Today, the automaker announced a big step forward in that roadmap that will include two new facilities, billions in new spending, and thousands of new jobs.

The $5.6 billion Stanton, TN factory will be called Blue Oval City and will bring 6,000 new jobs to the area. Ford says the site will include a BlueOval SK battery plant, and that electric F-Series trucks will be manufactured there. The assembly plant is designed to be carbon neutral and to send zero waste to landfills once it's up and running.

Ford Blue Oval City Ford plans to create a combined 11,000 jobs.Ford

Ford notes that Blue Oval City will be one of the largest automotive manufacturing sites in U.S. history. The campus sprawls 3,600 acres over six square miles, and will house assembly, battery production, and a supplier facility. The vertical integration of all functions on one site should lower Ford's production costs and reduce its carbon footprint.

The $5.8 billion Kentucky site will be a dedicated battery manufacturing complex that houses two separate battery plants. The location will supply Ford's North American assembly plants and is expected to create 5,000 new jobs. The facilities in both states are being built as part of a joint venture between Ford and SK Innovation, pending regulatory approval.

Ford Blue Oval City The TN facility is expected to be carbon neutral when it's up and running.Ford

The increase in production capacity can't come soon enough for Ford. Earlier this year, the Mustang Mach-E EV debuted to strong demand, and the automaker will soon roll out the first electric F-Series truck. Called the Ford F-150 Lightning, the pickup will be the first electric truck from a legacy automaker.

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