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Ford to test new self-driving vehicle technology in 2018

By Paul Lienert

By Paul Lienert

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co <F.N> will begin testing its latest self-driving vehicle technology next year in at least one city but has not changed its plan to begin commercial production until 2021, the company said.

The automaker said on Thursday that it would test self-driving prototypes in various pilot programs with partners such as Lyft, the ride services company in which rival General Motors Co <GM.N> owns a minority stake, and Domino's Pizza Inc <DPZ.N>. However, Ford has still not decided whether to operate its own on-demand transportation service.

In a blog post, Jim Farley, president of global markets, said Ford also would test new business models that involve its self-driving vehicles, including the movement of people and goods.

GM unveiled plans last week to introduce its own on-demand ride-sharing service in several U.S. cities in 2019, using self-driving versions of the battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt.

Ford is shifting production of a future battery electric vehicle to Mexico to free up capacity at its Flat Rock, Michigan, plant to build the self-driving vehicles in 2021, according to spokesman Alan Hall.

The electric vehicle, whose more-advanced battery system will enable a driving range of more than 300 miles, will go into production in 2020 at Ford's Cuatitlan plant, which suppliers say will also build a new hybrid crossover vehicle around the same time.

At the Flat Rock plant, Ford is boosting investment to $900 million from $700 million and adding 850 jobs.

Both the 2020 electric and the 2021 self-driving vehicles will draw on the next-generation Ford Focus for some of their underbody structure and components while using different propulsion systems.

Unlike the full electric vehicle from Cuatitlan, the self-driving vehicle from Flat Rock will use a hybrid system with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, Hall said.

(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)