Ford may be cautious with its autonomous driving programme but its chairman has rejected claims it was falling behind its peers.

"I don't agree," Bill Ford told Reuters at an auto tech conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday when asked about losing market share.

"Our self-driving system, Argo, is incredibly competitive. On the technology side, we are right up there with the very best in terms of time of development but we want to take great care before we let people in these vehicles."

In Israel for the first time to launch an innovation centre, Ford said the timing for marketing self-driving cars was unclear given that safety issues need to be resolved.

"We are dealing with people's lives. We have to be absolutely sure these are ready for prime time in all conditions," he told the EcoMotion conference.

The carmaker is working with several Israeli self-driving technology firms like Intel unit Mobileye.

Ford told Reuters that ultimately, self-driving cars would come down to trust by customers.

"It's unknown when the perception gets good enough that it is going to be ready for mass consumer adoption and that's the part I want to make sure we are incredibly comfortable with before we launch it," Ford said.

Ford bought Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based self-driving startup in 2017, and since has looked at providing autonomous vehicle services to multiple partners, which in turn would offer them to their customers under their own brand names.

But with spiraling development costs for autonomous cars in recent years, the company and other carmakers have sought alliances and outside investors, Reuters noted.