Ford's aim to have a fully driverless car by 2021 will require big changes in federal and state laws to clear the way, according to a US report.

Ford executives said this week the automaker plans to have a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation in 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service. It said it was investing in or collaborating with four startups to enhance its autonomous vehicle development, doubling its Silicon Valley team and more than doubling its Palo Alto campus.

The Detroit News said current federal regulations never contemplated that self-driving cars would be on the road soon so Ford lobbyists have wasted no time contacting key lawmakers and regulators in Washington, laying out its plans in an effort to win wide latitude for driverless vehicles.

"This space is still developing from a legislative and regulatory perspective," Christin Baker, a Washington spokeswoman for Ford, told the Detroit News. "As we do with most major announcements, we shared information about [this week's] news with key stakeholders in government — and we will continue to do so going forward."

The paper noted federal regulators were expected to unveil regulations for testing fully automated cars in July, but the rules became embroiled in debate after the first fatal crash involving a car driving in semi-autonomous mode. Regulations now aren't expected until September.

John Simpson, privacy project director at the Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog group, told the Detroit News he was not sure if Ford could adequately test autonomous vehicles within its five-year time line.

"In this day and age, five years can be a long time, but you still need to prove these things are safe," Simpson said. "If the ultimate goal is to be steering wheel- and pedal-free, they're probably still going to have a driver, at least during testing."

Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said Ford's proposal to develop a fully self-driving car in five years is very ambitious.

"Autonomous vehicle technology represents a sea change for the industry, an evolution that is both exciting and a bit frightening for established automakers," he said. "Each manufacturer is jockeying for position in a race that remains highly speculative regarding the timing, implantation and regulation of this technology."

He told the Detroit News Ford's plan to use self-driving cars in ride-sharing fleets initially "is another sign that the first application of self-driving technology will be under highly controlled conditions in a specific area, such as college campuses or urban environments."

Brauer doesn't expect to see privately owned, fully autonomous cars capable of operating anywhere for at least seven to 10 years, the paper added.