By ARMAN KAZEMI
January 15, 2015
Last week, Ford announced its first public foray into the ride-share market. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, CEO Mark Fields detailed the company’s intentions to expand into new transportation markets through the Smart Mobility Plan.
According to Fields, Ford will conduct an elaborate series of urban mobility experiments in countries across the world, all in an effort to “help change the way the world moves by solving today’s growing global transportation challenges.”
As some industry observers have noted, Ford maybe simply trying to muscle its way into a still-fledgling industry dominated by start-ups focused on the evolving transportation needs of an increasingly urbanised world.
Of the 25 experiments Fields announced, the most salient are the Dynamic Social Shuttle and Rapid Recharge & Share programs.
Both adapt successful models for sharing rides already established by the likes of Uber and ZipCar. The Dynamic Social Shuttle is an app-based program that offers streamlined transportation services for users, adapting routes and arrival times according to the real-time requirements of its passengers.
The service will be tested in the hyper-urban environments of New York and London.
Rapid Recharge & Share is Ford’s effort to develop fast-charging electric vehicle infrastructure in urban areas in order to increase EVs’ share of urban streets and make them “a practical choice for car-sharing.”
Hearing this, one would wonder why one of the world’s largest producers of automobiles is taking such efforts to help people buy fewer cars.
The answer may lie in what Fields identified as “four important megatrends” affecting transportation. Principal among these are an expanding global middle class with the ability (and expectation) to own a car, and a generation of millennials who are not as interested in private vehicle ownership.
These issues, along with concerns over urban air pollution in increasingly dense “megacities” with major traffic congestion offer a strong case for alternative transportation models.
The Smart Mobility Plan is an effort by Ford to position itself for a future with many transportation models. If Ford is serious about this shift, relative newcomers like Uber and Zipcar could face new competition from one of world’s oldest car markers.
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