Ford drives a future with fewer cars

Shanghai overpassAlmost hidden behind the parade of new cars signalling a rejuvenated motor industry at the Detroit motor show, Ford has made some interesting minor headlines with CEO Alan Mulally talking about the bigger issue of future personal mobility. The remarkable fact here is that other carmakers aren’t also speaking out on the subject.

The motor industry is changing faster than ever before. But it’s a bigger picture than that. Cars are just one form of personal mobility. Private and public transport are merging. The whole transport landscape is becoming integrated, inseparable from energy considerations and the environment. Major cities are already at car capacity and struggling to develop mobility solutions which will work. Which are sustainable.

Part of this involves excluding cars from city centres, yet that is precisely why the car companies should be leading discussion and planning for future urban mobility. They need to not only offer temporary or complementary solutions but to be at the core of the new transport model, whether in providing micro-footprint mobility devices, public transport vehicles, components or infrastructure.

Easier for a Tesla than a Toyota for sure. But before long, car companies will not be able to exist in their current form. Mulally cut to the point, saying that simply building more and more cars is “not going to work”. The industry is currently focused almost solely on the existing model: customer buys car, uses it in all situations, swaps it for another. It gives the customer huge choice – of different brands and variants which don’t fit the world we’re about to be living in. It doesn’t reflect the culture now required.

Already, buying habits are changing. Consumers are eschewing larger cars. Younger people are putting off buying vehicles. Existing cities are adding pedestrian areas, bike lanes and trees. Megacities are evolving to a new, connected blueprint. Quality of life is as much a driver as consumerism.

Car companies traditionally don’t lead. They follow legislative requirement and market imperative. But when they do so they excel – look at the extraordinary reduction in CO2 emissions and increases in engine efficiency and performance over the past few years. They could do so in the wider, emerging mobility landscape too.

Credit to Mulally for being so direct. And why shouldn’t Ford be the car company to lead opinion? More than any other it has the mobility credentials. It’s an everyman brand, started by a man who gave motoring to the masses with the Model T, and in recent years it’s invested huge amounts in to environmental R&D.

Credit to Mulally also for admitting to not yet knowing precisely what role Ford will play in future mobility. But he’s giving it the thought it needs. And with that approach Ford could be a vital part of the big mobility plan. A mobility brand.

 

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