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Ford developing a strategy to address urban personal mobility globally; a mobility company, not just an auto company

Ford blueprint
Rough map of Ford’s Blueprint for Mobility. Click to enlarge.

Ford Motor Company is mapping out a strategy to address the requirements for personal mobility in the context of the megatrend of increasing global urbanization, both in mature economies as well as in emerging markets. If Ford thinks of itself as a mobility company, rather than just an auto company, said Ford Chairman Bill Ford at the recent, second annual “Go Further with Ford” trend conference, “that really opens up possibilities.”

The Ford chairman had already begun talking about the future of urban personal mobility in the context of ever-increasing congestion at the TED2011 conference in Long Beach. During his keynote address at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, he outlined a plan for connected cars to help avoid a potential future of what he called “global gridlock—a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy and resources.” (Earlier post.) At the Go Further with Ford conference, he expanded on a broader vision for personal urban mobility supported by an integrated network of different modes of transportation optimized for cities of the future.

I believe that we need to attack this issue of personal mobility in a very different way than we have traditionally looked at transportation. So, what does that mean? Well, it means maybe different business models. We’ve already seen things like ZipCar come up. There’s lots of new technology, some of it has been invented, a lot of it needs to be invented. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication; vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.

In the world that I think has to happen, when you think of a major city, you think of the transportation assets: subways, bicycles, pedestrians, the buses, private cars, the cabs, they are all going to have all to be integrated into one network. If we do that, I think we can provide individual mobility that people would like.

I’m not sure we’ll be the integrator. We’d like to be, but I’m not sure we’re the most natural integrator. But we’ll work with companies that will do that. Because it’s not just autos, and not just tech, it’s urban planners. That’s going to have to be a big part of it. Policy makers. You think about autonomous driving, and then sensor collection, there’s going to to be privacy issues that are going along with cloud computing coming into your vehicles..we’re going to really need to think through the notion of mobility and it’s going to bring in a lot of non-traditional [elements]—for an automotive company these are all non-traditional—and yet I’m really excited by it. If we as a society can pull this off, we are really make peoples’ lives more enjoyable and freer in next 50 years.

This is really kind of what what my great grandfather did. He had a saying, “opening the highways to all mankind”. This is what he felt he did...If you think of what Henry Ford did, he didn’t invent the car, he made it available to everybody.

We at Ford use the term “democratization of technology”... that’s what I think we should be going going forward...I think of this whole urban mobility topic really along these very same lines. It’s kind of like a reinterpretation of my great grandfather opening highways to all mankind…but instead of the highways, it's going to be mostly urban areas.

I expect we’ll always be making cars and trucks, but we may be doing something else very different as well. If we think of ourselves as a mobility company rather than just as an auto provider, that really opens up possibilities.

—Bill Ford at Go Further with Ford

Mature markets. Like some other OEMs (e.g., Daimler’s car2go initiative), Ford has already taken steps to exploring new business models such as car sharing in mature markets, in Ford’s case via a strategic alliance with ZipCar establishing Ford as Zipcar’s largest university vehicle partner.

Some 42% of 25-34 year olds are likely to live in a city or urban environment rather than in the suburbs, according to research cited by Ford. That, combined with a preference for automotive access rather than ownership, is helping to the success of models such as car sharing.

Millenials and transportation. Source: ZipCar. Click to enlarge.

At the Go Further with Ford event, Gretchen Effgen, ZipCar’s director of business development, cited figures (diagram right) showing that 55% of licensed drivers aged 18-34 decided consciously to drive less in 2011, compared to 45% in 2010. The number for drivers aged 35-44 was higher: 61% in 2011, compared to 40% in 2010.

Additionally, increasing numbers of younger drivers are replacing car trips with online socializing. Further, the rapid adoption of mobile technology is having a significant impact. Mobile represents 58% of all ZipCar reservation activity in 2012, she said.

Effgen said that ZipCar had handled 4 million reservations in 2011, and that 10 million drivers live within 10 minutes of a ZipCar. Compared to the average 19% of a household budget spent on transportation, “Zipsters” (ZipCar users) spend about 6%, she said.

In addition to exploring new business models for mature markets, Ford, as other automotive OEMs, is busy developing new vehicle technology for driver-assistance, increased safety, and connectivity, with an ultimate goal of realizing safer, more efficient automotive transportation (V2V, V2I).

Emerging markets. Tackling emerging markets poses a somewhat different challenge, due, among other things, to rapid population growth and different densities. By 2050, more than two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities; 50 of those cities may have more than 10 million people. Africa and Asia together will account for 86% of that urban population growth. In addition, by that time, it is projected that there will be more people older than 60 than under 16 worldwide—already true in the developed nations today.

Urban density maps. Source: Ford. Click to enlarge.

The big challenge in addressing emerging markets, said David Berdish, Ford’s Manager of Social Sustainability during the Go Further with Ford event, is trying to understand the specific urban eco-systems.

Cities have their own types of ecosystems and their own infrastructure, their relationships, their citizens. If Ford wants to be part of the ecosystem, we have to have a better understanding of it. It’s either municipality-driven or institution-driven or driven by other areas, other parts, and you try to figure how you fit in.

Within trying to fit in the system, we’re trying to understand where the needs are, what the constraints are, how big a role can Ford play, or where can Ford play without being a traditional car company that jams our cars and trucks down peoples’ throats.

—David Berdish

Kristin Schondorf of Ford’s Research and Advanced Engineering Group is now the Global Project Manager, Future of Mobility Research, and as such is the dedicated global lead to defining Ford’s overall vision on the future of mobility—including these emerging markets.

The first thing we did as team was to define what really is mobility. We defined it as accessibility for people, goods, and services to go efficiently, affordably and safely. Looking into these new models is key. We broke it into the three big areas—we have the new business model element, vehicle concepts, and new technology to support the visions.

I look at that [picture of Mumbai, India] as a huge opportunity. We want to go to a fully connected multi-modal network.

—Kristin Schondorf

The Ford team will begin fleshing out their Blueprint for Mobility later this year.

Other approaches: Renault MOBILIZ

Ford is not alone in trying to figure out how to address the changing markets for mobility. Renault has launched MOBILIZ, the first social business initiative in mobility from a French carmaker. The program aims to restore the autonomy of people with low incomes. More than eight million people living under the poverty line in France are barred from fully entering society and the professional world through their inability to get around or acquire and maintain a vehicle, the company said.

Initially launched for France, MOBILIZ is based on three main components: real-life mobility service solutions; the creation of an investment company to finance mobility projects; and a partnership with the “Enterprise and Poverty” Chair at HEC Paris. MOBILIZ will:

  • Support the development of new mobility platforms run by the Voiture & co organization: services will include a diagnosis of individuals’ mobility needs and a range of needs-adapted solutions, including carpooling, micro-community transport, €5-a-day car hire, and support in obtaining a driver’s permit. Since 2007, seven Voiture & co mobility platforms have helped 52% of beneficiaries to find a job again, according to Renault.

  • Propose car repair prices adapted to people with low incomes at volunteer Renault garages (agents, dealerships) called “Socially Responsible Renault Garages”. The idea is to bring the service and reception quality of the Renault network to beneficiary customers as identified by the social services. This original offering is the result of joint efforts by Renault and participating Renault garages.

  • Finance organizations and companies developing innovative mobility solutions for people in social and financial difficulty through the creation of an investment company called MOBILIZ Invest s.a.s. Launched with an investment budget of €5 million provided by Renault, MOBILIZ Invest s.a.s. could be opened to external investors in line with identified synergies. Based on the social business principle, aimed at maximizing social impact, any profits will be reinvested in other projects on community-minded mobility rather than being paid out as dividends.

  • Foster knowledge sharing and dialog on social business projects with players from civil society, public authorities and other companies committed to this approach, with Renault becoming the third partner of the “Enterprise and Poverty” Social Business Chair at HEC Paris, alongside Danone and Schneider Electric. The partnership will also enable the Group to benefit from advice from experts in the field, including Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner for micro-credit, and Martin Hirsch, Chairman of the French Civic Service Agency and former High Commissioner of Active Solidarity.

[Ford hosted Green Car Congress at the Go Further with Ford event.]



Way to go Renault!
A car maker caring about how all the people, not just some of them, get around!


I remember Ford having an idea for a "dualmode PRT" system a few years back and I thought it was neat at the time - let me see if I can find it.

Rico Masaba

This is very interesting. Ford's whole strategy is an echo of what Texxi has been espousing for 7 years. This very blog - GreenCarCongress covered a July 2005 article on us. Back then we started with just SMS, but our whole description (and indeed patent) was based around any mobile device (SMS, tablet PCs, smartphones) and we did start development in 2007 on smartphones too.


During the last 100+ years, Car and Oil companies did their very best to squash the most efficient public transportation mode (i.e. trains) in favor of 900,000,000+ private individual vehicles, inter-city buses and heavy trucks burning almost 40,000,000 barrels of Oil a day and creating unmanageable increase in traffic jams, GHG and associated climate changes.

It is very doubtful if car makers and Oilcos will support and promote a return to more efficient people and freight transportation modes. It is simply not in their interest to do so.

China, with a very different political system, may be one of the few country to promote and accelerate the use of very high speed e-trains for more efficient people and freight inter-city transportation in the very near future.

Replacing 900,000,000 ICE vehicles with 1+B electrified vehicles would reduce GHG emissions and liquid fuel consumption but could create worst traffic jams in many places. We have to find ways to remove vehicles from overcrowded roads and streets, not to increase their number.

Bob Wallace

It doesn't matter if the Oilcos 'support and promote'.

Unless it is impossible to create a better battery oil companies are the other 'dead man walking' along with coal.

Oilcos have a longer hike to the end, but in the long term they cannot compete with cheaper renewable energy for transportation. Best long term option they have is to hang on as niche players.

The car manufacturers that get out and march with the parade will survive. Some may not and fail. Some new companies like Tesla could well be one of the major personal transportation manufacturers of the future.

We're going into to a new personal transportation world. We might see little one-person/two-person/family battery powered pods that link together on the run to form commute trains, thus cutting traffic jams to acceptable.

The future has so many options it makes no sense to predict that things will be bad.


BW....when everybody has two cars (a small city unit and a larger limo) traffic management will be a real problem to deal with.

Somebody in China has designed a very large city bus. on long legs, to be driven over normal city traffic. Would that be more efficient than to drive (subways) under city traffic?

Another solution are 100+ stories very large buildings with high speed automated elevators for vertical commuters. Of course, underground subways would still be required for horizontal commuting.

Bob Wallace

There are a lot of ways to achieve traffic efficiency.

I'm all for HSR, subways, monorails, any sort of stuff that makes personal travel easier, more efficient and cheaper.

We're not all going to want to live in 100+ story buildings. Some will still wish to live in the burbs and countryside. What's wrong with letting someone live 15/30 miles away from work and commute in an efficient electric made from sustainable materials?

I look at people I know who commute to work (or used to commute to work). I can see a very pleasant 20 minutes/half hour/even longer if you could step into your pod carrying your morning cup and settle in while your pod delivered you to your workplace. You could take a little time to get started on your day or catch up on the news/email/whatever. Watch some TV. Get a break between house and work.

I used to have a 45 minute commute through beautiful Sierra foothill land. I listened to NPR or music and finished my thinking about work on the way home. It was not wasted time, but a welcomed transition time. Would have been even sweeter if my ride had driven itself.

It may be that we have to ask people to transfer to mass transit for the most compacted city center. But we can also give people some freedom to ride alone as well.

We should be able to build 'personal/family pods' for less money than we now spend for vehicles. Smart guidance will reduce the need for heavy 'crash cages'. Batteries will almost certainly get cheaper than what we now pay for ICEs and their support systems.

We can certainly 'fuel' for about 1/4th of what we now spend per mile.

(I've always lived 'out of town'. I tend to think about personal transportation first. That's not to say that I don't use and enjoy good mass transit when it's available.)


BW...I appreciate your point of view but eventually more people will have to live closer to their work/study/play place to reduce road/street traffic loads unless all large cities invest a lot more into inner-city public e-transport network and many more suburban e-trains.

There is currently a move back to down town living in many large cities by people tired of traffic jams and 2+ hours on the roads/streets on a daily basis.

The local paper published the names, travel time and trend in 20+ large cities. LA is still the worst place and getting worse. NYC is doing much better and improving with more people living down town and improved public transports.

Roger Pham

With increasing traffic congestion with most large cities, accompanied by more expensive parking rates, the current model of one person-one car during rush hours should be phased out. Current wireless networking, cloud computing and social networking are much better than what existed several decades ago, and should lend themselves to much better computerized carpooling. Everyone commuting into heavily-congested zones should be heavily encouraged to carpooling. This can be done by assessing electronic-camera-based tolls on all cars going into heavily-congested zones. One-person car will suffer the most, while multi-person cars can easily share the costs among all the passengers. Grouping assignments should be made with preferences based on gender, race, age range, and socio-economic status, personal interests, etc. in order to maximize participation. Security is of the utmost importance, and should screen for criminal background and criminal tendency based on personal profiling.

The Chinese government are solving the traffic congestion problem in big cities by restricting the issuance of license plates. However, with extensive computerized electronic matchmaking carpooling, such will not be necessary. People should be allowed to own cars for use on weekends, emergencies, and on pleasure trips.

Bob Wallace

Again, who knows the future? Let me return to the personal-pod.

Since crash avoidance systems will greatly reduce the probability of smacking something we can safely reduce the fore and aft crumple zones, greatly shortening the pods compared to current vehicles.

On the road the pods could run, touching each other, with zero space between. That would increase existing road capacity by multiples of 3x?, 4x?

I'm not saying that is what will happen, I'm just saying that we can't decide how things will play out when the technology is changing so rapidly.

Literally Engineer

Hmm, Ford "the mobility company" sounds very much like the Ford I worked for 15 years ago. It was the time of Jaques "the Knife" Nasser, who ended up splurging money on Hertz, Kwik Fit (a UK service garages chain), Th!nk (the Norwegian electric car co), and was planning to gather all other sorts of mobility types (there was talk of buying Piaggio, I seem to recall).

This time around there seems to be a lot more data behind the initiative; but whether Ford will be making bicycles remains to be seen...



BW...LA has tried to solve the growing traffic jam problem with more highways, wider streets etc. Each time capacity was increased, people moved further out and spent more time on the roads creating bigger and bigger traffic jams and progressively increasing time to go to work.

The same thing would happened with shorter vehicles driven closer to each other to increase the road and highway load factor. L.A. would just expand more quickly to pick up the gain/slack within 2 or 3 years and they would be back to square one quickly enough.

Leaving the personal vehicles home (or in the train stations parking lots) and using public high speed e-trains to go to work/school etc works much better than using more personal vehicles.


One hundred years ago, our Island City had one bridge (and a few ferries). Traffic jams did not exist. We now have 25 costly bridges and tunnels. Do not go near them during rush hours unless you have 1 to 2 hours to spare because over 1,000,000 people (who moved to far away suburbs) want to sue the same bridges/tunnels at the same time twice a day.

Would another 25 bridges/tunnels help or convince another 1,000,000 to move to further suburbs? It seems that as soon as new infrastructures are built, people will quickly move to used them. Eventually, many will travel 50 miles every morning and evening to satisfy their dream to live further out in the country side.

Difficult to win at that game.

Roger Pham

Good point, HarveyD.
A possible solution is car or van pooling. Putting 4-10 persons in a single vehicle during rush hours will greatly reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Using a carrot and stick method, the local government can offer a system of computerzed carpooling while assessing tolls during rush hours on all congested roadways. The advantage of this approach is that no new transit systems will need to be built, which would be impossible anyway due to the high degree of urban sprawl that exists in the LA area or many greater metropolitan areas.

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