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Ford’s future focuses on drivers as well as driverless

A-Sync-hronous: Ford believes its future will have room for both petrol heads who love driving, and consumers simply looking for a simple transportation solution.

Self-driving solutions for the future does not mean forgetting the driver: Ford

Ford logo30 Mar 2017

By TUNG NGUYEN

FORD is charging ahead with the expansion of its core vehicle business to new offerings such as self-driving and drone package delivery services, but the future will always have a place for petrol heads, according to the brand’s global consumer trends and futuring manager Sheryl Connelly.

Ms Connelly, speaking to GoAuto at a special Future with Ford TEDx talk in Melbourne, said the evolution from an exclusively car-building company to a mobility solutions business is about making “people’s lives better”.

“I think it’s the difference from going from your first cell phone to a smart phone,” she said. “You know that yes, there was a change, but there is no doubt it was a change for the better because it gave you more options, more opportunities, you are more nimble, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do with mobility services.”

One such mobility service already in its prototype stage is a Ford-developed electric scooter, which the brand says can be stored and charged in their vehicles, and will allow owners to avoid traffic congestion by parking further away from city centres before using the scooter as transportation for the last leg of the journey.

Ford is also in the concept stages with a self-driving delivery service – dubbed Autolivery – which aims to streamline the distribution of packages and mail in congested areas by using automated drones.

Another product in development is Ford’s first autonomous vehicle, which Ms Connelly said “we will likely see it in a commercial application, so a ride-hailing service or some sort of commercial transport”.

Expected to arrive to market by 2021, Ms Connelly also said the shift to a self-driving future will not happen instantaneously, and instead we will see a gradual changeover.

For the Australian market however, a survey has revealed that the number of locals willing to buy an autonomous vehicle sits at about one in three, well behind the adoption rates of countries including India and China.

“Right now, those parts of the world suffer the greatest congestion, they have the most daunting infrastructure challenges and the highest road safety fatalities and issues, so in that context, it’s not that surprising the appeal would be greater convenience and a more safe environment,” Ms Connelly explained.

“Australia’s numbers really aren’t any different than that of the United States or the United Kingdom, you know they range between 30 and 40 per cent.

“To be clear, that survey was done two years or 18 months ago, and a lot has changed in the world of technology… but when we speculated as to why the numbers were so different from the east and west, I think it has a strong correlation to the maturity of the market, the automotive market.

“So in all three of those areas (US, UK, Australia) you have a long history where the car has been a part of the cultural context. People see the car as an extension of their identity, many of those people in those marketplaces still regard their cars as a status symbol, and so the notion of a car being less than that, is hard for some of us to imagine, and that’s a good thing because we’ll still continue to service those people as well.”

Despite the industry-wide adoption of self-driving technologies and automated cars, Ms Connelly was quick to assure that Ford would continue to develop driver-focussed products, in addition to its new mobility solutions, and that both have a place in the future.

“There’s lots of people who still want to own their own car, drive it – you know, thrill of the drive – and there will still be plenty of opportunity to do that,” she said.

“Our line-up of performance vehicles has never been stronger, and there’s really no fear of that changing because most of the people that work for Ford, love cars. That enthusiastic perspective is deeply rooted into the company’s culture.

“The Ford family would have it no other way.

“Driving your own car is a wonderful experience, you know when you’re in the open road and you’re on the highway with the wind in your hair with the pedal to the metal, but if you’re in a city centre and you’re not going to be able to enjoy it or experience it, maybe that’s not the day you want to take your car out of the garage, maybe that’s the day that you have other more pressing priorities that say I need to take the train, or if the train’s too crowded and I need to get some work done, I need to take a car lift service.”

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