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April 9, 2019 3:30 PM, EDT

Ford CEO Jim Hackett Tamps Down Expectations for First Autonomous Vehicles

Ford A Ford Motor Co. Explorer Hybrid SUV at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

Too much hype has built up about how soon self-driving cars will hit the road, but they will ultimately change the world, Ford Motor Co.’s CEO Jim Hackett said.

“We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” Hackett said April 9 at a Detroit Economic Club event. While Ford’s first self-driving car is still coming in 2021, “its applications will be narrow, what we call geo-fenced, because the problem is so complex.”

Hackett is engineering an $11 billion overhaul of Ford, which involves closing factories, cutting thousands of salaried jobs and ditching traditional sedans to focus on high profit sport-utility vehicles and trucks. In addition to shoring up profitability, the drastic moves are borne out of the pressure car companies are under to get autonomous-vehicle technology on the road before rivals inside and outside the auto industry.

Jim Hackett

Ford Motor Co. CEO, Jim Hackett (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News)

“When we break through, it will change the way your toothpaste is delivered,” Hackett said at Ford Field, the football stadium of the Detroit Lions, owned by the family of Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “Logistics and ride structures and cities all get redesigned. I won’t be in charge of Ford when this is going on, but I see it clearly.”

Ford recently earned kudos from President Donald Trump for investing $900 million to build electric and self-driving cars in Michigan and $1 billion on two factories in Chicago to build Explorer SUVs. Hackett also is in talks with Volkswagen AG to jointly develop electric vehicles and driverless cars. The two automakers already have joined forces to build commercial vans and trucks.

“When we bring this thing to market, it’s going to be really powerful,” Hackett said. “There’s probably going to be alliance partners that we haven’t announced yet that will make it more certain that we don’t take on all the risks ourselves financially.”