SAN FRANCISCO — Although automakers continue to enjoy rising sales on the back of a rebounding economy, Ford is trying to prepare for a time when car ownership shrinks in the face of a mixed-mobility future.
“We need to keep investing in our core business, which is making and selling cars and trucks,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told a group of reporters gathered for an informal conversation Wednesday. “But we’re also a mobility company, and that means encouraging an innovation mindset, challenging assumption and moving fast.”
Ford is running a variety of test programs around the world that are aimed at testing new ownership models and getting insights into the habits, needs and desires of the newest generation of consumers.
These include GoCar, which gives Londoners the option of one-way in-city rentals with parking. X-Car is an African-based initiative that allows non-governmental organizations access to vehicles for multiple uses around the clock. And Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing, active in London and six U.S. cities, that gives those using Ford financing to buy their cars the opportunity to cut their payments by renting their vehicles.
Fields said the city of the transportation future is only as close as business and civic leaders want it to be. “The regulatory and legal framework for this needs to be developed as soon as possible, because the technology often leads the way on these things,” he said.
“We’re learning about Millennials as we go, which will help us shape future ownership opportunities and financing options,” Fields said, noting that one Peer-2-Peer hiccup was that many users were more interested in renting the cars of others but not renting out their own, citing potential damage and insurance issues.
Fields was in town for a World Economic Forum conference called “Shaping the Transformation of Urban Mobility,” which included Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and a number of mayors.
Fields also commented on:
The future role of dealerships: “They’ll move from being just a point of transaction to facilitators of long-term ownership. In the future our dealers may play a different role, but they’ll play a role.”
Obstacles to tech-fueled mobility progress: “There will be winners and losers, and the industries that lose out (in this shift to autonomous cars and alternative transportation) will work hard to make sure this new framework doesn’t get implemented. We need to get ahead of it, or it’ll take forever.”
Possible declines in sales if car-sharing or ride-hailing services such as Uber continue to boom: “We’ve got to get more of the global marketplace, which is why we’re investing in places like South Africa and Asia Pacific.” Why he’s not worried about any immediate drop in sales, which are also being propped up by record low oil prices: “The average car on the road today is 11.5 years old, and 28% of pickups are 20 years old. About 70% of sales is around replacement, so that bodes well, barring any big fiscal, geopolitical or policy shock.”
Whether Ford would ever partner with Google or Apple on auto projects: “We’re always open to partnerships, but having said that we want to create a customer experience that is very sticky” and focused on the Ford brand.
A commitment to fast cars despite the coming age of slow-moving self-driving pod cars: “We’re aiming for 20 performance models by 2020, and soon will be unveiling cars such as the Focus RS and the GT 350 and 350R.”
At this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show, Ford unveiled its newest Escape, a small SUV that is now packed with a range of driver-assist technology including the ability to help the drivers perpendicular park the car.
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