Bill Ford: Automakers must embrace mobility changes

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford said Thursday the future of mobility will likely include fewer cars and more transportation options, and automakers need to embrace the change to remain relevant.

In a 30-minute Thursday conversation at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference, Ford discussed the future of mobility, innovation, sustainability and company culture, among other topics.

He said in the near future, transportation in cities will look vastly different than it does today. Cars, bicycles, subways and other systems will all be connected and communicate with each other, and city dwellers will have more options than ever with the continued rise of car-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Zipcar.

“Ford and other (automakers) can’t be afraid of this,” he said. “Ultimately it’s an opportunity to change our business model to provide our customers something they want and need.”

Ford said his family’s namesake company is constantly working to improve its customers’ lives now, but “there has to be an element in the company that has to be thinking about the future.”

Earlier this year, the automaker launched 25 mobility experiments throughout the world designed to study transportation trends.

Fourteen of the 25 experiments are Ford-led research projects, and 11 are part of the company’s Innovate Mobility Challenge Series, in which it asked innovators and developers around the world to create solutions for mobility challenges, like congested cities.

Earlier this week, it made public a car-sharing service in London.

“People today look to Ford as a brand they respect in transportation,” Ford said. “We need to make sure in 20 years people still look at Ford as a brand they respect in transportation.”

Throughout his tenure at the automaker, Ford has been a champion of environmental issues and sustainability. The company has reduced its water use, and has a solar car port and a green “living roof” at its Dearborn headquarters, among other features. Last year, Ford was named the greenest brand in the world by brand consulting firm Interbrand.

“It struck me that if we didn’t get on the right side of this issue, we could end up like the tobacco industry,” he said. “I didn’t want to have our workers have to apologize to their families for working there.”

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