By 2020, production self-driving cars will almost certainly be a reality.

Or so it will be according to Mark Fields, the CEO of Ford Motor Co., who spoke at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last night.

“Fully autonomous vehicles are a real possibility,” said Fields. “Probably, in the next five years, you’ll see somebody introduce autonomous vehicles.”

Raj Nair, Ford’s vice president of global product development, agrees.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” said Nair.

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Driver-assist technology can already be found in many Ford models, such as the optional self-parking feature. But Ford isn’t making plans to develop a car that can completely drive itself.

“If you want to go to the full extreme – full autonomy – literally a vehicle that has no steering wheel and has no pedals, that’s a tremendous technical challenge,” said Nair.

Instead, Ford wants to steer its development of driver-assist technology towards affordable devices for its entire model line, even the economy cars.

In contrast, Mercedes-Benz isn’t holding back on its autonomous technology. On Monday night, Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Daimler AG, introduced a new self-driving concept car from Mercedes. The F 015 carries four people in a spacious pod. Passengers can rotate to face each other in seats that Mercedes describes as “lounge chairs.” The luxurious interior includes six infotainment screens that operate by watching a passenger’s hand or eye movements.

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The F 015 is more than just an entertaining concept, said Zetsche.

“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,” said Zetsche. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

Automotive News