Auto manufacturer Ford has for the last four years been among the companies exhibiting at the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) – the key global networking event for mobile technology providers – in Barcelona. This year, from 22-25 February, the carmaker revealed how its digital transformation is gathering pace, as the Ford group morphs towards becoming a provider of overall smart mobility services.
‟Remaining an automobile manufacturer is no longer enough for customers. We need to provide them with a complete range of solutions in line with their mobility needs,” announced Barb Samardzichat, Chief Operating Officer of Ford of Europe, in her keynote, underlining: ‟This is an entirely new business that’s opening up for us, and it’s one that’s perfectly in line with our usual market.” Ford appears to be rising to the challenge. The company is making strenuous efforts to take the lead as a provider of smart mobility services. Ford embarked on the transition process last year with MoDe:Link, an electric bicycle specially designed to be stowed inside a car so as to meet the needs for multimodal transport. You can drive your car to point A – a railway station for instance – then take the bicycle on to the train and, once in town, ride it to your final downtown destination. The bike is moreover linked to an app to help the rider navigate his/her way around.
Connectivity enabling new services
‟The auto manufacturing market is today estimated at $2,400 billion, but the mobility market could be worth $5,400 billion. There’s a real challenge here,” argued Mike Nakrani, who heads up Ford’s Smart Mobility programme, pointing out: “There are 59 megacities in the world. Last year 87 million cars were sold, and this will increase to 110-120 million with the arrival of emerging countries. Parking, traffic jams, pollution – there’s a real need to make cities ‘smarter’, and this can only be done by taking a modern view of mobility.”
Accordingly, Ford has has been stepping up its experimentation in the wider mobility field in recent years. In January the automaker announced the forthcoming launch, in April, of the FordPass app, which looks as though it might become the iTunes of the transport world. FordPass will provide a set of personal solutions – both physical and digital – in order to give users a range of different mobility options. The app will be available to all. It will offer FordGuides, a mobility concierge that can make appointments, locate petrol filling stations and parking spots, plus a loyalty programme. Ford has teamed up with Flinkster, one of the leaders in car-sharing in Germany, and Parkopedia, a global database designed to help you find the perfect parking space.
Car-sharing and fast parcel delivery
Nor is the automaker shying away from the concept of car-sharing. ‟For the last two years we’ve been running a car-sharing trial in London, which we call GoDrive”, Mike Nakrani pointed out. A fleet of 50 vehicles is available at 20 drop-off points. In contrast to Autolib in France, the system is based on per-minute payment, and it guarantees a parking spot when you arrive.
In addition to trying out car-sharing and collaboration concepts in cities, Ford is also onboarding ‘sharing economy’ ideas into the cars it builds. The MyBoxMan app – operated by the French startup FretBay – is already integrated into Ford’s Sync3 embedded connectivity system, potentially transforming your car into a delivery vehicle. The car’s console will offer a driver out on a given stretch of road the opportunity to pick up and deliver someone’s parcel and thus earn 5 – 8 euros for a delivery journey of 5 kilometers.
Driving towards autonomous vehicles
But is this broad range of mobility services merely intended to prepare the ground for the arrival of Ford-branded autonomous vehicles? Not at all, insists Ken Washington, Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering, arguing: ‟The autonomous vehicle is an island in itself; it’s just a part of a much broader concept of mobility.” Nevertheless, Ford CEO Mark Fields announced at the MWC event that the company intends to triple its investment in assisted-driving and semi-autonomous driving systems over the next five years. In addition to its existing semi-autonomous driving technology programmes – a system designed to detect people on the road ahead and an Intelligent Speed Limiter – two more are due for launch in the near future: Traffic Jam Assist, which will help to drive smoothly through traffic; and Active Park Assist, an advanced system which automatically steers the vehicle into parallel parking spaces. So is the autonomous vehicle to be the ultimate phase in Ford’s digital transformation? Watch this space!