Ford Eyes its Biggest Car Innovation Since the Model T – PC Magazine
Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but he forever changed personal transportation with the introduction of the Model T in the early 1900s. As the first mass-produced automobile that was affordable for a majority of the population, the Model T not only transformed how people get around, but society as a whole.
After more than a century of the automobile dominating personal transportation—and initiating everything from the interstate highway system to suburbs to car culture—technology is once again impacting how people move around on the level of the Model T. And many predict that individual car ownership will only cease being the dominant piece of the transportation puzzle.
This obviously has huge implications for automakers, who don’t want to go the way of the horse-and-buggy industry 100 years ago. While several car companies, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW, are making bets on car- and ride-sharing services, Ford is aggressively moving into what the company calls Smart Mobility, which takes a wide-ranging approach to personal transportation.
At CES 2015, Ford CEO Mark Fields announced that the company is engaged in 25 experiments around the world—everything from gathering bicycle data in Silicon Valley to developing a monsoon alert in Mumbai, India—to better understand the means and challenges of getting people from Point A to Point B.
This week, Ford announced an expansion of its Smart Mobility experiments (and that it’s enrolled in the California Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program to test autonomous vehicles on public roads). One of the new projects is a Dynamic Shuttle service designed to offer Ford employees who work at the company’s Dearborn, Michigan facilities an on-demand ride sharing service.
But the end goal is to ultimately compete with the Ubers and Lyfts of the world and grab a piece of a lucrative and growing market.
‘We Get Zero Percent’
At an event at Ford’s Silicon Valley Research and Innovation Center earlier this week, Fields noted that total revenue from “the traditional automotive industry is around $2.3 trillion today and growing; Ford gets about 6 percent of this.”
He added that ride-sharing “transportation products and services revenue is already around $5.4 trillion. We and the traditional auto industry get 0 percent of this today. That’s why being an auto and a mobility company makes business sense.”
Later, I had a chance to speak with Fields about how ride-sharing fits into Ford’s overall Smart Mobility initiative. “Our strategy going forward falls into two areas,” he explained. “One is flexible [vehicle] use and ownership, the kind of things that we are doing with our Dynamic Shuttle project. The other is multimodal urban mobility solutions, such as how we’re experimenting with e-bikes and what that means in terms of being able to offer consumers a platform to integrate various forms of transportation to allow them to get across cities or wherever they want to go.”
While these two areas are the main focus of Ford’s recently expanded portfolio of mobility experiments being conducted around the world, Fields noted that the overall goal for the automaker is to be a major force in the future of transportation. “We’re taking a very holistic approach to what we call Ford Smart Mobility,” he added. “Mobility for us is how do we help people live, work and play where they want, and then what role can we play in helping to fulfill that.”
Much like the company’s founder did with the Model T a century ago.