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Ford exec says autonomous cars will be scrapped 'every four years'

The company believes fully self-driving cars will operate nearly continuously as fleet vehicles.

Expecting self-driving technology to increase demand for vehicles, Ford is apparently not worried about the existential threat posed by autonomy.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Ford Autonomous Vehicles operations chief John Rich suggested fully self-driving cars will operate as fleet vehicles with extreme use cycles that will keep automakers busy manufacturing new cars.

"The thing that worries me least in this world is decreasing demand for cars," he said. "We will exhaust and crush a car every four years in this business."

Some analysts have predicted that autonomous taxis will supplant privately-owned vehicles for many commuters, disrupting the automotive industry by reducing demand for new vehicles.

Analysts predicted that ride-sharing services such as Uber would also have a negative impact on car sales. The forecast has not proved accurate, however, despite price subsidization as Uber and Lyft lose money every quarter in a battle for market share.

The average age of vehicles on American roads is now more than 11 years, accumulating around 200,000 miles before being put out of service, according to some estimates. In New York City, the average taxi is 3.8 years old and travels approximately 70,000 miles per year. Ford apparently believes any short-term effects caused by growth of autonomous taxi fleets will be offset in the long run as the high-use vehicles need to be replaced after fewer years.

Autonomous technology development is progressing in parallel with the shift toward electric vehicles, which may have a bigger impact on new-car sales than self-driving tech. EVs are expected to require much less service than traditional internal-combustion cars, potentially allowing owners to achieve many more miles on the odometer before replacing the vehicle.

Tesla recently announced that its vehicles are already designed to last one million miles. The current-production batteries have a lower life span of 300,000 to 500,000 miles before needing replacement due to range degradation. The company predicted that engineering improvements could push batteries to the million-mile mark as early as next year.

It will take a few more years to determine if Tesla and other EV makers can achieve huge leaps in vehicle longevity, and even more years before any related shifts in vehicle purchasing habits become apparent.

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