Fields’ point of view has led to Ford beginning to identify itself, not as an automaker, but as an “automotive and mobility company.”
Owners Turning Into RidersFord’s new mobility division is designed to address the growing number of Americans who prefer taxis, shuttles and ride sharing to automobile ownership.
While the numbers fall well short of a groundswell so far, it is true that car ownership among young people is declining. Columnist, George F. Will noted recently that miles driven in 2012 were 6.4% lower than in 2004.
Ford Exploring New AvenuesBanking on this being more trend than anomaly, Ford started a pilot program in London that lets drivers check out a Ford vehicle from one of 25 locations, use it and pay by the mile. Guaranteed free parking is included.
Another program still in development, FordPass, is a service that will let users prepay for parking, find a rental car or even catch an Uber-like ride.
Ford is more of a “Johnny come lately” than a “trailblazer” in this area. In January, Ford rival, General Motors Co. (NYSE:GMC) invested $500 million in Uber competitor, Lyft and acquired the employees and technology behind former ride-sharing service Sidecar.
The company also has its own small pilot ride-sharing program in Manhattan designed to grow into a service that would allow GM owners to pick up, charge and give rides to others headed in the same direction. To that end, GM is even working on its own mapping system.
A number of ways to turn ride-sharing and short-term rental into cash flow have been proposed. Carmakers could, of course, run their own fleets of taxi-like vehicles but that idea hasn’t had much traction.
Alternatively, they could sell or lease to Uber or Lyft drivers, something GM is already doing. This takes away the burden of car ownership on both sides of the equation, according to Lyft President and co-founder, John Zimmer.
“Passengers,” Zimmer said, “don’t need to own a car if they use Lyft, and now drivers do not need to own a car to work for it.”
Toward A Driverless Future
The end game is likely a future in which almost nobody owns or drives a car because cars will be driverless or automated. This is the self-admitted long-term goal of the GM/Lyft partnership.
Self-driving vehicles are also a big part of Ford’s R&D program, which recently advertised that it was testing driverless cars in snowy conditions, long considered one of the big obstacles to autonomous cars in the first place.