SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Ford has announced plans to get deep into areas of mobility that stray far beyond simply building and selling cars and trucks.
In a keynote address to more than 1,000 journalists from around the world at the annual 'Further with Ford' trends conference here, Ford President and CEO, Mark Fields outlined plans to get into multi-modal transportation that involves everything from electric bicycles to ride-sharing and flexible ownership.
The youthful executive, dressed casually in jeans, jacket and open-neck shirt, said Ford has to not only drive its business today but anticipate what consumers are going to want 15 years down the road.
“We are entering the most transformational period in the company’s lengthy history,” he said pointing to extensive research that shows the road ahead will be much different from that we know today.
The rapid growth of the global middle class may mean a new market for vehicles, but most of that demand will come in developing countries, not the traditional hotbeds of Europe and North America.
That opportunity will also be greatly affected by the continuing move from rural to urban centres where crowded conditions will make owning a personal vehicle onerous. Ford feels that alternative strategies will be necessary.
The company implemented Smart Mobility at the first of this year, a plan to deliver the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles. “We now are moving from experimentation to implementation,” Fields, said.
Earlier in the day we visited the company’s new Research and Innovation Center in nearby Palo Alto – in the heart of Silicon Valley. By the end of the year 150 people, many of them fresh PhD graduates from the most prestigious universities, will be working on the Smart Mobility plan, specifically in areas ranging from connectivity and mobility to autonomous vehicles and environmental issues.
Fields announced several new pilot programs based on six months of research and 25 experiments conducted to better understand mobility needs around the world. The focus is on two key areas of mobility – flexible use/ownership and multimodal urban travel solutions.
Ford’s credit arm has set up PEER-2-PEER pilot programs in the U.S. and London where 12,000 customers in London and 14,000 in six U.S. cities can rent their vehicles to pre-screened clients for short-term use, helping offset ownership costs. The program runs until November.
Ford said research shows one-third of all Millenials (23-34 year-olds) are interested in renting out their belongings to supplement their income. It says young Americans rank car rides second only to book lending as things they are most open to sharing.
The GoDrive program, in London, offers pay-as-you-go one-way trips with guaranteed parking. Per-minute pricing covers all fees. Fifty cars, including zero-emission electric cars are parked in 20 locations.
Ford says it is becoming increasingly difficult in crowded urban centres to drive a personal vehicle from home to work and Multimodal solutions may be the answer.. It showed us here a prototype electric bike and Apple Watch app. The bike can be configured for road, mountain or city use and folds and stores in any vehicle – where it can be charged.
The app includes real-time information on weather, traffic patterns, parking costs and transit time. It includes navigation and even a “no sweat” mode that monitors the rider’s heart rate, providing more electric assist as you approach your destination, allowing you to reduce your pedal effort and arrive without breaking into a sweat.