Driverless Trucks at Ford: Cruising into a Compromised Brand Identity?
Ford's F-Series of trucks were first introduced in 1948, and ever since they have represented American identity for their consumers. Both earned media, in movies like Urban Cowboy, and Ford's paid media positioned Ford as part of the pioneering culture. Ford also constantly introduced innovations to the F-Series to make the trucks more suitable to the changing needs of its consumers. In 2018, Ford's management decided to retreat from the low-margin cars segment and focus on trucks and SUVs. Ford was also working toward robot taxis and driverless delivery by 2021. These two parallel trajectories converge to pose a pivotal challenge for Ford: Should the company invest in developing driverless capabilities for its best-selling and highest-margin product, the F-150? The case provides students with a context in which to discuss the changing technologies in the auto industry and their implications for industry structure, along with the specific aspects of software-driven business models, consumer preferences, and brand identity. It also offers an opportunity to explore the challenges faced by traditional businesses as they develop digital capabilities and reimagine their business models to fully leverage artificial intelligence (AI). The competition among Ford, Google Inc. (Google), Uber Technologies, Inc. (Uber), and Tesla, Inc. (Tesla) in the automonous vehicle industry highlights the different routes these companies have taken to obtain develop autonomous vehicle capability that leverages their respective strategic capabilities.