Once upon a time, there was a famous red streetcar in Los Angeles, and legend has it that it was killed by a car company. Whether the Red Car really died because GM wanted it out the way in order to sell more vehicles or whether that’s just urban lore, Los Angeles has been ruled by cars for the past 75 years. And that was certainly not a bad thing for the car companies of the time.
But as Ford Motor Company enters its second 100 years, it has a very different approach to mobility. With investments in bike sharing, ride sharing, fractional ownership, public transportation, and now, autonomous vehicles, Ford is going about reshaping how people move from place to place.
Ford CEO Mark Fields
I got a chance to hear from Ford CEO Mark Fields about where the company is and where he sees it going, at the 2016 Further with Ford #FordTrends conference in Dearborn, Michigan, which I attended as a guest of the company.
According to Fields, Ford Motor Company sees the changes taking place in the world and is responding in order to stay relevant and viable as a company.
“Attitudes regarding vehicles and transportation are changing rapidly,” Fields said. “The world has moved from just owning vehicles to both owning and sharing. This is causing us to think very differently as a company and driving us to rethink our entire business model. It’s not just about how many vehicles we can sell, it’s about what services we can provide as well.”
A History of Disruption
Henry Ford was a disrupter in his day, and his assembly line changed the way not only the world moved, but the way businesses worked and the way people earned a living. Current Ford Motor Company management and rank-and-file see their role similarly at this point in history.
“We believe the next decade is going to be defined by the autonomous automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles having as significant of an impact as Henry Ford’s moving assembly line,” said Fields.
Autonomous Vehicles by 2021
Ford recently announced that they will have a “level 4 fully autonomous vehicle” on the road in 2021, with applications in ride-sharing or ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft. Fields said Ford is starting with these services because “the technology is there, and when you take the driver out, you remove the biggest cost of a ride-hailing service.”
The future of mobility is a wide open, exciting place, especially at Ford, where Mobility is more than a concept; it’s become a part of their business. Ford Smart Mobility LLC, launched this Spring, is part of Ford’s expanded business model to be both an auto and a mobility company.
Through Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s plan is “to be a leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and data and analytics.”
Fields was asked if autonomous vehicles create a problem for Ford going forward when it comes to sales of non-autonomous vehicles. “There will be a spectrum of drivers going forward,” Fields said. “There are those who will always love driving, and those who view it as a chore. In our company, we’ve used the term ‘fun to drive,’ but we’ve also added ‘fun to ride.’”
Sarah Auerswald is the co-Founder of MomsLA.com. She was a guest of the Ford Motor Company at the 2016 Further with Ford #FordTrends conference.