Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford (aka William Clay Ford Jr.) recently flew to Dubai for the regional launch of the 2015 Mustang. While there, Ford addressed the Dubai Chamber as he spoke about the automaker’s plans for the future, and the future of mobility itself.
One of the many challenges all automakers will face going forward is selling too many cars, as Ford puts it. When there are three, four or five times as many cars on the road as there are today, the current business model of the automotive industry will no longer work. That’s why Ford discussed his ideas for avoiding the potential “global gridlock” issue.
Ford, like many other automakers, sees connected vehicles as a way to decrease congestion on global roadways. To make this a reality, roads and infrastructure will have to be connected as well, which will allow for all cars to communicate and will, in theory, facilitate better traffic flow.
Ford’s other visions for the future of mobility include common ideas like autonomous driving and electrified cars, to more radical concepts such as using connected cars to better serve the health and safety sectors.
We think Henry Ford’s great grandson has hit the nail right on the head with his vision for the future of transportation, and we’d highly suggest having a listen to his remarks, which we’ve embedded below via video or transcript.
Dubai and the Middle East is a special place for Ford Motor Company. I like to think of our operations in the Middle East as a startup within a 111 year-old Fortune 10 company. And what better location for a start-up than Dubai — where anything seems possible.
This also is an exciting time for us at Ford as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mustang — the world’s most iconic car. If someone had told me when I first started working at Ford that I would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mustang in Dubai, I am not sure I would have believed them.
When it first launched, Mustang captured the passion, optimism and youthful energy of its time. It continues to do so today. That makes Dubai the perfect place to celebrate its milestone anniversary.
It probably is not a surprise to hear that cars and trucks are in my blood. They are my family heritage, my life’s work, and my deep passion.
Given how much I love cars, it may surprise some of you that I believe the auto industry needs to rethink its approach. At a TED Conference in 2011, I delivered a clear, perhaps surprising, message: we just can’t keep making and selling automobiles the way we always have. The current industry model simply will not work everywhere in the future.
For most of my adult life, I worried about, “How am I going to sell more cars and trucks?” But today, I worry about, “What happens if all we do is sell more cars and trucks?”
What happens when the number of vehicles on the road doubles, triples or even quadruples?
Our industry has made some of its greatest achievements when faced with a serious challenge. This is one of those moments.
There is something truly special about the automobile. The sense of freedom that comes from a vehicle. The ability to travel, to explore. To see and do new things. Many of us remember that feeling when we first found ourselves behind the wheel of our first car.
I grew up believing in cars. Not just knowing about them or liking them, but believing in the promise of the automobile to make lives better. Cars let people decide where to live, work and play. Prior to the Model T, most people did not travel more than 25 miles from home in their entire lifetime.
How else can I put it? Cars are an integral part of my family. My great-grandfather was Henry Ford. On my mother’s side, my great-grandfather was Harvey Firestone. Henry Ford believed that the mission of the Ford Motor Company was to make people’s lives better and make cars affordable so that everyone could own one. He believed that mobility brought freedom and progress.
It is a belief that I share and a belief that has proven true.
But while I believe in the power of mobility, it is not my only passion. Growing up, I fished the rivers that were fished by Ernest Hemingway, decades before. As the years progressed, I began to notice some changes. Where I once saw an empty field or isolated stream, there now was a shopping mall or new condominiums.
This began my lifelong journey into environmentalism. And as a student at Princeton University, I was exposed to the latest environmental thinking, and the auto industry often was cited as being a major and unrepentant polluter.
It would have been easy to dismiss these views. Or just as easy to walk away apologizing for the auto industry, who we were and what we did.
But that was not my reaction. I thought, “There has to be another way.”
To me, this was a challenge. Our industry is loaded with talent and has a global footprint: we have the scale to make a difference. We had to rise to the occasion, rather than shrink in the face of it.
So where are we? It took many years where my views were widely unpopular in my company and in our industry before progress was made. But persistence did pay off, and earlier this year, Ford was named the greenest brand in the world by Interbrand.
With new technology, we are improving fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our products. And I believe that in my lifetime, we will have truly clean transportation.
We are developing alternative powertrains that will make cars affordable in every sense of the word – economically, socially and environmentally.
That is great progress, but I wish it was all we have to do.
Another huge issue is looming, one that will require every ounce of our ability to think creatively, to commit ourselves to a challenge. The freedom of mobility that my great-grandfather brought to people throughout the world is now threatened.
In simple terms, we have a numbers problem. Today there are almost 7 billion people in the world. Within our lifetime, that number will grow to about nine billion.
And we will be living more closely together. Some reports predict that by 2025 more than half the world’s population will live in megacities of 10 million residents or more.
When we look at population growth in terms of vehicles, the problem becomes even more pronounced. Today there are about one billion vehicles on the road worldwide. But with more people and greater global prosperity, that number is expected to double, and possibly double again, by 2050.
This will create “global gridlock” on a scale the world has never seen before.
It is a problem where I live, as the average American already spends about a week a year stuck in traffic. But that is nothing compared to what is going on in other cities. In fact, Dubai is an appropriate place to talk about this issue.
You know it. You live it. While Dubai’s infrastructure is better than many other cities, the roads are growing more crowded by the day. And that only will continue as the population grows.
Last February, the Director General of the Dubai Municipality, Hussain
Lootah, issued a warning. Dubai’s streets and highways are reaching maximum capacity. Aggressive measures may be required to deal with the problem.
Higher parking fees, fuel prices and insurance rates, and even restricted car ownership are ideas that may be considered.
Dubai’s road network has grown by 50 percent in the past eight years – with more to come. But you can’t pave your way out of the problem.
We are seeing global gridlock everywhere. In Beijing, for example, the average driver has a daily five-hour commute. A couple of years ago, China also was the location for what many are calling the worst traffic jam ever: an 11-day, 150 kilometer tie-up.
And even while cars are getting cleaner, a traffic jam with no emissions still is a traffic jam.
Yet traffic jams are just a symptom. While they are inconvenient, the bigger issue is how global gridlock will stifle economic growth. It will limit our ability to conduct commerce, to keep economies moving. It is going to get more difficult, much more difficult, to deliver food and much needed services, particularly to people that live in city centers. Our quality of life is going to be severely compromised if we do not address it now.
So what will it take to solve the issue?
The answer is not more of the same. My great-grandfather once said that before he invented the Model T, “If I had asked people then what they wanted, they would have answered ‘faster horses.’“
Today we need that same leap in thinking to preserve mobility worldwide. The answer is not more roads. A recent headline in the Gulf News summed it up: “Congestion needs out of the box solutions.”
You may have heard the term “smart cars.” Cars and trucks today are being built with increasingly more powerful microprocessors. You see the technology when you get behind the wheel of a new vehicle. We are equipping cars and trucks with new technologies that improve the driving experience, guide you to your destination, manage the car’s functions and keep you and your passengers entertained.
So we are building smart cars, and they will continue to get smarter. But we also need to build smart roads, smart parking, smart public transportation systems and more – and we need to connect them all using wireless telecommunications. Why? Because when you link the vehicle to the world around it, you begin to attack global gridlock.
To keep traffic moving, we need an integrated transportation network that uses real time data to optimize personal mobility on a massive scale.
Now here is some good news. Some work in this area already is happening, and you don’t need to look far to see it.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit the city of Masdar, which many of you may be familiar with. It uses driverless electric vehicles that communicate with one another and travel beneath the city streets with a series of pedestrian walkways up above. This is an incredibly ingenious approach that links different mobility options together.
The era of the “connected car” already has begun, as we equip vehicles with high-speed wireless connectivity. But imagine what is possible when our cars begin talking to each other and the roadways and networks around them. The systems that we use today to bring entertainment into the vehicle and help us with directions are the same systems that will help us create a smart vehicle network.
My day starts and ends with a 30 mile, or 50 kilometer, commute. And I never know what to expect in terms of traffic, accidents, road work or long delays for no real reason whatsoever. I presume this sounds familiar to many of you.
But if our cars could talk to other cars and connect with the network of roads, things change quickly. If a truck ahead of you on the highway hits slow traffic: your car is immediately alerted and told to reroute itself.
Or what if there is a pothole in the road ahead? Your car could be warned and you could steer clear, eliminating the potential for damage. At the same time, the information is passed to road maintenance officials and a repair crew is dispatched. Delays are avoided and problems are fixed in less time.
The potential benefits from vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity are tremendous as the automobile becomes better integrated into the broader transportation system.
In 2012, Ford introduced its vision for the future, a Blueprint for Mobility, to begin to address the challenges we saw coming. The Blueprint provides solutions for short-, mid- and long-term needs. It calls for regulators, cities, countries and private businesses to come together and take action to create a viable future.
We are serious: it is a strategic, multi-year strategy.
Yet one of the priorities in our Blueprint is not about what happens when a car is moving. It is about what happens when it stops. I am talking about the simple, frustrating act of finding a parking space.
We recently analyzed data showing that only about 7 percent of drivers in San Francisco were able to drive directly to an open parking space. The remaining 93 percent took between 2 to 20 times longer to find an open spot.
In addition, UCLA found that up to 74 percent of city congestion is caused by drivers looking for parking.
It is a huge waste of time and energy. And it only will get worse.
Yet what if cars are linked to the roadways and can monitor the parking environment? What if we installed sensors in each parking spot? Or used the technology in cars to collect data on open parking spaces and load that data up into the cloud so any driver could find an open spot? Or even use autonomous driving to park your car for you at a nearby parking facility, and bring it back to you when you are ready to go?
Another issue is that with more cars on the streets and energy consumption a serious issue, demands for efficiency will change what cars are made of. Materials like carbon fiber, currently the stuff of race cars and multi-million dollar exotics, will find their way into mainstream cars.
What defines car “ownership” or, rather, “access” to a vehicle will change, too. In congested urban environments, we will see more peer-to-peer applications and “on demand” transportation networks. Here in the Middle East, on-demand services like Uber are taking off in Dubai and other cities. People are looking at new ways to get where they need to go as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Finally, the act of driving itself will change. “Autonomous” driving, vehicles that drive themselves, will help reduce traffic delays. This technology will also improve road safety; a significant issue here in the Middle East.
So it is clear we have the beginnings of a response to this enormous issue. There can be no doubt: we must solve global gridlock before it takes hold. We have to find new ways to allow the growing population to continue enjoying the promise of personal freedom we have known so far.
It is a big goal. But it is not enough.
What if we could do more? What if we could move from solving problems created by vehicles, to vehicles solving longstanding societal issues?
This is what really excites me – the opportunity to impact significant problems that may appear, at first, to have little to do with cars. It is what takes me back to believing in the automobile.
Vehicles are, at a most basic level, a means of getting something or someone to another location. Mobility has always offered answers to longstanding problems.
But now we have an opportunity that we could not have imagined 10 to 20 years ago. All of the computing power and connectivity that makes cars smart, that connects vehicles to the world around them, is capable of doing much more.
It can help us tackle broader issues such as public health or economic opportunity. For example: India, like many other countries, struggles with providing healthcare in rural communities. So we initiated a project there and invited developer and “maker” communities to come together and develop new ideas.
One of those resulted in a program that puts our vehicles in the rural villages of India to improve the health of expecting mothers. The driver collects and loads medical data from a patient into the vehicle’s computer, and uses its wireless connectivity to send the data to a medical professional in the city. The woman’s prenatal condition then is able to be monitored remotely, vastly improving the chances of a healthier mother and child.
To date, we have helped provide healthcare to more than 1,600 women and children; helped set up 27 health camps; and reached another 54 villages to facilitate maternal and child health awareness.
Vehicles, technology, and an expecting mother’s health. That is a powerful combination, and an example of how vehicles can help improve our lives.
Not only can cars help monitor health, but they can help strengthen a country’s infrastructure. For example, in developing nations that do not have accurate mapping of their own roadways, vehicles that transport rural medical aid can be equipped with sensors to map the rural roads as they drive.
This is important for many reasons, including economic growth. Complete, accurate maps help with commerce because they keep things moving.
These are all problems that we are tackling today. But we also need to look to the problems of the future. Many developed nations are facing an issue called the “gray dawn,” with aging populations and the average age increasing. It has significant implications in several areas, such as the resources required to provide care and to get the elderly to where they need to be. Elderly people feel the loss of independence when they can no longer drive.
But what if autonomous driving could extend the driving life of the elderly? What if this technology could enable them to maintain the personal freedom that comes from mobility? Imagine how that could improve their quality of life, and reduce some of the dependency on caregivers.
As technology quickly evolves, we must push ourselves to look for new opportunities to solve bigger issues. This is the next challenge before us. We must find ways that mobility can improve the human condition.
For me, it is a return to my roots. Growing up, there was something almost heroic about the car. The automobile represented possibility. I think we are there again.
It is also a return to the roots of our company. On a summer night in 1896, after years of experimenting, Henry Ford finished building his first car. In his moment of triumph, he discovered the car was too big to make it through the door of his workshop.
At the moment, he could have chosen to give up; but he did not. Instead, and without hesitation, he took a sledgehammer and knocked down his garage wall and went out for a test drive on the streets of Detroit.
It is time now to stretch our own imaginations and set our goals higher. It is time to knock down some new brick walls. In doing so, we will preserve and enhance our incredible freedom of mobility, and the quality of our lives.