Ford is running 25 mobility experiments around the world ranging from car-sharing schemes to apps to help drivers find parking spaces in a bid to find answers to global transportation challenges

Ford is running 25 mobility experiments around the world ranging from car-sharing schemes to apps to help drivers find parking spaces in a bid to find answers to global transportation challenges

Ford is running 25 mobility experiments around the world ranging from car-sharing schemes to apps to help drivers find parking spaces in a bid to find answers to global transportation challenges.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford president Mark Fields announced the company’ Smart Mobility plan which, he said, would take the carmaker "to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and big data."

The fully autonomous car, he added, would be available within five years. The issue, however, is whether there would be the necessary infrastructures available in big cities to support them.

In other words, the car industry will have done its bit but it will be up to national and local governments to come to the party in terms of easing congestions and improving mobility.

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 first steps for Ford Smart Mobility are 25 experiments – nine in Europe and Africa, eight in North America, seven in Asia and one in South America. Each experiment, Fields said, is designed to anticipate what customers will want and need in tomorrow’s transportation ecosystem.

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 – challenging the transportation model and limiting personal mobility, especially in urban areas.

London is the centre of several pilot projects aimed at alleviating congestion in dense urban areas, including car sharing, parking, and shuttle service projects.

Ford is also expanding its car sharing programme in Germany. The venture with the German dealers association, FHD GmbH, and DB Rent, the company behind Flinkster car-sharing, is the first automotive manufacturer-backed, nationwide car sharing scheme incorporating dealerships.

Barb Samardzich, chief operating officer, Ford of Europe, said: "We are open to smarter ways of keeping the world moving freely, for the benefit and progress of all. Changing the way we think, collaborate and behave is essential to ensuring freedom of movement of both people and economies. It is very unlikely there is a single one-size-fits-all solution to mobility issues. Right now, we’re at the research phase – testing and refining projects so that we can find out what works, and develop smarter ways of ensuring freedom of movement for all."

The London-based research experiments are:

  • City Driving On-Demand: A flexible, and integrated car-sharing scheme using Focus Electric and low-emission Fiesta 1.0-litre EcoBoost cars which can be reserved via an app or call centre. Pricing is per minute, with fuel and insurance included
  • Data Driven Insurance: Monotoring individual vehicle use with the potential to create a personalised insurance quote and reduce insurance costs.
  • Dynamic Social Shuttle: A new on-demand vehicle ride service offering one-way point-to-point journeys. Pay-as-you-go, more convenient than a bus, and better value than a taxi.
  • Painless Parking: Developed with a local authority, a smartphone app service can assist drivers in finding a suitable parking space based on their profile preferences, the real-time parking situation in their target locale, and their GPS location

In Germany, Ford’s Carsharing programme has grown to include 55 cities and more than 100 locations, including small towns and villages. Customers register at a dealer after which they can make a booking via a smartphone app, website, or by phone. As well as Ford vehicles ranging from Ka to Transit, customers also have access to Flinkster’s 3,600 vehicles. Sarmardzich said that in recent months, bookings have doubled compared with the first half year average.

Among other experiments, Ford is working to create an electric vehicle charging station infrastructure in Dearborn, Michigan, so it can use electric vehicles for car sharing as well as a car swap programme in the city.

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.

Urban mobility expert Dan Hill, executive director of future and best practice at Future Cities Catapult, welcomed Ford’s plans. "While urban mobility is a challenge throughout the world, the solutions are very different – some cities are much newer than others."

He added: "In Europe, for example, we have to find ways to move through medieval cityscapes in the 21st century and we will see a new mobility culture emerging."

Sarmardzich added that many of Ford’s 25 experiments will be completed by the end of this year.

"We fully expect some of them not to work out, that’s OK, but some will turn into viable business solutions and propositions. You have to test things on the ground with real people – you cannot always address things theoretically."