Ford unveils ‘Mobility Plan’ at CES

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

In an effort to be more innovative and address global transportation concerns, Ford Motor Co. is testing everything from a car-swapping program for its Dearborn employees to an app that finds available parking spaces for London commuters.

In a Tuesday keynote at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, President and CEO Mark Fields unveiled Ford’s “Smart Mobility Plan,” including a series of 25 experiments around the world meant to test new ideas and address commuting issues in congested places like Los Angeles and India.

“Even as we showcase connected cars and share our plans for autonomous vehicles, we are here at CES with a higher purpose,” Fields said. “We are driving innovation in every part of our business to be both a product and mobility company — and, ultimately, to change the way the world moves just as our founder Henry Ford did 111 years ago.”

The 25 experiments address four global megatrends: explosive population growth, an expanding middle class, air quality and public health concerns, and changing customer attitudes and priorities. 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 called on innovators and developers around the world to create solutions for specific mobility challenges.

“We see a world where vehicles ‘talk’ to one another, drivers and vehicles communicate with the city infrastructure to relieve congestion and where people routinely share vehicles or multiple forms of transportation for their daily commute,” Fields said.

Among the experiments:

■Ford is working to create an electric vehicle charging station infrastructure in Dearborn so it can use electric vehicles for car-sharing.

■Also in Dearborn, the automaker is testing a car-swap program. Need to haul some lumber on Wednesday? Use an app to request a truck that day. Need something more fuel-efficient for a long trip on Friday? Use the same app to switch out the truck for a hybrid.

■In London, Ford is testing a program that analyzes driver vehicle data and patterns so insurance companies can offer lower individualized rates.

■Also in London, Ford is experimenting with an app that tells drivers where the nearest open parking spot is and even lets them pay for parking meters by mobile phone.

■In Africa, Ford is working with fleets of cars that carry health care workers to patients in need in rural villages, using data to map previously unmapped parts of the country.

Fields said the experiments use a lot of different data, and Ford is committed to keeping it private.

“We believe customers own their data,” he said. “We may ask to use the data, but only with explicit opt-in and full transparency.”

Fields also touched on driverless cars, saying at a Monday night event he expects some automaker to invent a fully autonomous vehicle within five years. But don’t expect that automaker to be Ford.

“To be clear, our priority at Ford is not in making marketing claims or being in a race for the first autonomous car on the road,” Fields said in his Tuesday speech. “Our priority is in making the first Ford autonomous vehicle accessible to the masses and truly enhancing our customers’ lives.”

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