Ford could launch an Uber competitor (F)

Ford could roll out an Uber-like ride-hailing service even before the company's self-driving cars are ready to hit the streets.

"I would never rule that out," Raj Nair, the company's executive vice president and president of North America, told Business Insider when asked if the company would launch an on-demand mobility service with a human driver.

"I think we are evaluating a lot of things in Ford mobility and I think a lot of it will depend on the pilots we are running right now. We'll have to see if those business models are going to work or see if those business models need further modification, whether it be autonomy or advances in connectivity," Nair said.

Business Insider spoke with Nair last week, just a few days before Mark Fields stepped down as CEO. Nair previously was Ford's chief technology officer.

Now that Fields is out, the new CEO Jim Hackett, who previously headed up Ford's Smart Mobility division, is tasked with bringing the company into a new era of transportation. Given Hackett's background and his mission, it's likely the company will aggressively push ahead with new services. And as Nair said, that could even entail a service similar to Uber and Lyft.

Ford has hinted at getting into this business before. The automaker previously said it plans to launch its self-driving cars in a commercial setting by 2021 and that one of the use cases could include an on-demand, ride-hailing service.

So while Nair didn't completely dismiss the possibility of Ford launching its own network of taxis with human drivers, it's still likely the company would wait until its autonomous vehicles are ready before launching such a business. Nair said this is because the economics just make more sense once the car can drive itself.

"Labor is such a big part of the model right now, you could almost argue that this entire business isn't going to make sense unless you can change the cost structure and a big way would be to automate the driver," Nair said.

Nair also said that the company is open to partnerships, so perhaps instead of building out its own network, Ford could someday partner with Uber, Lyft, or another ride-hailing company to manage their fleet of self-driving cars.

"Going forward with autonomous vehicles, it's likely to be an owned fleet, which makes that vehicle management as a service so key," Nair said. "I think all of us have some thoughts about what value we could add into vehicle management as a system."

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