At Ford, Mobility Means More Than Just Car and Truck Sales
Ford recently invited me up to its Dearborn, Michigan headquarters to attend a series of press conferences about its ongoing experiments in the field of what it calls “Smart Mobility,” an initiative “designed to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and data and analytics.”
Greater mobility will come from Ford’s increased investment in electrified vehicle solutions, which Ford-Trucks.com’s Chad Kirchner discussed in relation to the F-150 here.
Ford’s Dynamic Shuttle program, now past the experimental phase and in the pilot stage at its HQ, will also increase mobility through the use of data and analytics. Currently, it’s dispatch-based, but it will eventually transition into handling ride requests through a mobile-based system. Users will get access to a mobile-friendly web portal and smartphone app in the first quarter of 2016. When those are up and running, riders will be able to request a shuttle whose deployment will be handled through a Ford-developed algorithm and software. That tech will figure out which shuttle will fulfill each travel request without lengthening the travel time of the people already on one of the four specially modified Transit vans. Ford has outfitted each one with complimentary Wi-Fi, USB charging ports for each seat, personal cargo space, and room for 6-8 passengers.
Riders then receive a proposed pick-up time and maximum trip duration. The user can then accept or decline. If they do the former, the request is sent to the shuttle driver’s navigation system.
Another part of the Blue Oval’s Smart Mobility program is the study and improvement of transportation – and healthcare – in rural West Africa. The use of the OpenXC open-source hardware and software in Riders for Health’s Ford Rangers allows the organization to track stops, timing, and routes for their medical services in The Gambia. The information gathered also facilitates the creation of useful maps of remote regions in the area. Ford will also equip 50 Riders for Health motorcycles with special sensors running OpenXC early next year. Those, just like the ones on the Rangers, will help Riders for Health gather GPS data and mapping coordinates so they can better deliver medical services, such as vaccines, medications, and hospital care, to people who might not otherwise receive such treatment.
According to findings from independent research firm Penn Schoen Berland, a third of Millennials in the U.S. are open to renting out their own possessions to make a little extra cash. More than half of them are comfortable sharing rides with others. In November, Ford ended a pilot program, Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing, in which more than 25,000 customers in six U.S. cities and London rented their Ford Credit-financed vehicles out to prescreened drivers for short-term use and offset their ownership costs in the process.
The Blue Oval also conducted an on-demand, public car-sharing pilot program in London. A fleet of 50 cars in 20 locations were available for use on a pay-as-you-go, per-minute basis. Each driver had their own guaranteed parking at the end of their one-way trips.
Ultimately, these projects are far from full, financially productive roll-out, but I commend Ford for taking the initiative in trying to discover ways to improve transportation methods outside of consumer cars, trucks, crossovers, and SUVs, segments in which the company does very well. No one knows that better than the people who work and live in Dearborn. Despite that, they have the clarity of vision to see the trends that are taking place around them and the willingness to attempt to find out how Ford can possibly become a major part of them in the future.
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