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Ford Smart Mobility shifts from research to implementation; company announces new programs, next areas of focus

In the opening keynote at Ford’s annual trends conference, 2015 Further With Ford, CEO Mark Fields announced the next phase of the company’s Smart Mobility plan, originally announced in January this year at CES (earlier post). Ford Smart Mobility is the company’s plan to deliver the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and big data; the initial stage was the creation of 25 mobility experiments across the globe.

Fields said that Ford, which has “learned tons in the past several months” from those initial experiments, is now moving from research to the start of implementation, including new strategic areas of focus, new pilot programs and new mobility product experiments.


Ford CEO Mark Fields at 2015 Further with Ford. Click to enlarge.

Fields opened by noting that mobility is about freedom of choosing where to live, work and play, and that mobility has helped make millions of peoples’ lives better.

For the past few years, our company has actually been warning that that freedom of mobility is now actually being threatened particularly in light of four megatrends that are affecting the future of transportation.

—Mark Fields

Those four megatrends are:

  • Urbanization and exploding urban populations. Today there are 28 megacities—cities with populations of 10 million people or more. Expectations are that there will be 41 megacities by 2030.

  • The doubling of the global middle class from 2 billion to 4 billion by 2030. Asian countries are driving a lot of this growth, and many of the new middle class aspire to own a car, Fields said.

  • Health risks due to poor air quality and congestion.

  • Changing customer attitudes and priorities regarding vehicles and transportation in general.

Rather than sit back as a company and “let’s continue to study” or “let’s worry about these things”, at Ford, we are doing something about it. We see this as a huge opportunity—just as big as Henry Ford had in his day a hundred years ago. Because what we are seeing is software and connectivity technology are driving vehicle innovation faster than ever. The clock speed on this stuff is incredible. That’s where Ford Smart Mobility comes in. Linking us both as an automotive and a mobility company.

—Mark Fields

Following six months of gathering data and consumer insights, Ford is honing in on two strategic areas: flexible use and ownership of vehicles, and multimodal urban travel solutions.

Flexible use and ownership. Ford Motor Credit Company announced today Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing—a pilot program for select customers in six US cities and in London.

Ford Credit is inviting 14,000 and 12,000 customers in six US cities and London, respectively, to sign up to rent their Ford Credit-financed vehicles to prescreened drivers for short-term use, offsetting monthly vehicle ownership costs. US customers participate through the Web-based, mobile-friendly software of ride-share company Getaround, while London drivers connect through a similar rental system of easyCar Club.

Consumers tell us they are interested in sharing the costs of vehicle ownership, and this program will help us understand how much that extends to customers who are financing a Ford vehicle. As most vehicles are parked and out of use much of the time, this can help us gauge our customers’ desires to pick up extra cash and keep their vehicles in use.

—David McClelland, Ford Credit vice president of marketing

New findings from Penn Schoen Berland, an independent research company, show:

  • One third of Millennials in the United States are interested in renting out their own belongings as a way to supplement their income.

  • Young Americans rank car rides second only to book lending as things they are most open to sharing.

  • More than half of Millennials report being open to sharing rides with others.

  • Half of Millennial and Generation Z consumers point to money savings as the top advantage to sharing goods and services. For 40%, it’s the opportunity to try new products, while for 33%, it’s having access to more options.

The pilot is being offered to select Ford Credit customers in California—including Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco; as well as in Portland, Oregon; Chicago and Washington, D.C. It runs through November.

Ford also recently announced GoDrive, an on-demand, public car-sharing pilot. The service offers customers flexible, practical and affordable access to a fleet of cars for one-way journeys with easy parking throughout London. (Earlier post.)

The new pilot—which grew from one of the more than 25 mobility experiments Ford announced in January—offers Londoners an easy way to access transportation through:

  • 50 cars positioned in 20 locations
  • One-way trips with guaranteed parking
  • Pay-as-you-go, per-minute pricing covers all fees
  • Availability of zero-emission Focus Electric vehicles

Multimodal mobility solutions. In many cities, driving a personal vehicle from home to work is not feasible. Ford is looking for solutions here, too, and today is revealing a new electric bike and a prototype smartphone app that makes using the eBike even easier for urban commutes.


MoDe:Flex eBike. Click to enlarge.

MoDe:Flex is Ford’s third, most versatile eBike yet—easily reconfigurable for different customer needs. The bike’s center frame assembly includes the motor and battery, while the front and rear assemblies and wheels can be configured for road, mountain or city riding. The bike folds and stores inside any Ford vehicle, where it can be charged while stowed.

Like the MoDe:Me and MoDe:Pro eBikes introduced in March, MoDe:Flex connects seamlessly with a rider’s smartphone thanks to the MoDe:Link app. The app harnesses real-time information regarding weather, congestion, parking costs, time, traffic and public transportation. It includes eyes-free navigation, route planning, and health and fitness information.

It also helps to identify the most efficient and cost-effective mode of transport for a journey.

A new extension of MoDe:Link for the smartwatch brings all of the real-time data and functionality to the eBike rider’s wrist. This includes the “no sweat” mode, which increases electric pedal assist based on heart rate, ensuring riders gets to their destinations without breaking a sweat. The wearable device also provides safety notifications. Hazards, such as potholes ahead, are signaled through vibrating handlebars, the smartwatch alerts the rider and beeps.

Learnings from experiments. Ford also shared insights from some of its more than 25 original mobility experiments:

  • Dynamic Shuttle: The on-demand ride-sharing service in New York and London studied how Ford vehicles—in this case, a Transit van—should be modified to make it most accommodating to consumers. People told Ford they want transparent fares and travel times; enough personal space to feel comfortable; amenities such as Wi-Fi; space for small bags; and a less-than-five-minute walk to or from their pick-up and drop-off points. (They did not want to be picked up at their homes.)

  • InfoCycle: Research as to how bicycles can be best used in urban environments. Results showed that cities as well as consumers can use data from bike sensors. Bike sensor data can provide information about traffic patterns, pedestrians and road conditions that is difficult to obtain from vehicle sensors. In the future, this data may be combined with vehicle data to analyze road quality, characterize micro-climates, or identify traffic patterns throughout the day. For example, city planners could use this information to create bike lanes. Bike riders could get insights on best routes or real-time information on areas to avoid.

  • Data-Driven Insurance: Creating driver profiles based on behavior behind the wheel, then sharing with insurance providers and rental car companies for more personalized, potentially discounted rates. The researchers found that people like receiving a score, as it allows them to track their progress and improve. However, people don’t want to be told how to drive.

    The system works better if drivers see benefits of improving driving habits and are rewarded for changing behavior. The realization that driver scores and associated driving data have a broader range of application to mobility services.

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