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Ford Is No Longer (Only) A Car Manufacturer


The giant has created a subsidiary dedicated to mobility and is investing millions of euros in start-ups to capture a share of the gigantic transport services market.

Ford has been present at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) for six years. But this year, for the first time, the automaker had come without a car. In place of the gleaming vehicles that could be seen at the four corners of the show, the American had decided to put on his visitors’ noses a virtual reality helmet to take them in a whirlwind drone ride in the city of tomorrow.

A not-so-surprising choice: since January 2016 and the creation of its subsidiary Smart Mobility, the giant of the car no longer mixes the only car. He wants to become a major player in urban mobility. Jim Hackett, one of the group’s pundits, left his seat on the board of the company to take the lead of this new entity and devote himself fully to its development. “Mobility services represent a significant growth opportunity for Ford, and we are looking forward to rapidly growing market share in transportation services, which is already worth $ 5.4 trillion in annual sales worldwide,” he said. Group CEO Mark Fields at the time of the creation of the new division.

This year, no car on Ford’s stand at the MWC, the builder preferred to take his visitors on a virtual drone ride in the city of the future.

To develop adapted offers, Ford Smart Mobility studies the desiderata of customers of a new kind for the constructor: the cities.

This research on mobility in the city resonates with the new approach implemented by Ford to create the automobile of tomorrow. It will be autonomous but also integrated into an extensive ecosystem of connected objects, such as home appliances and wearables. A real strategic change for the multinational.

To quickly develop the services that seem promising, the group makes its research teams available to its subsidiary (it spent $ 7.3 billion in R & D in 2016) and is ready to put its hand in the portfolio. In particular, he spent more than $ 65 million to cheer on Californian start-up Chariot, which was integrated into Ford Smart Mobility. The start-up created in 2014 has developed an on-demand mass transit service, currently deployed in San Francisco. His hundred shuttles are looking for service users at the foot of their home. Their journey is optimized according to the places of departure and arrival of the customers. “We are hiring drivers and will implement this offer in six new cities in 2017. Five are located in the United States and one in the international,” says Jessica Robinson.

Ford has spent more than $ 65 million on Californian start-up Chariot, which has been integrated into Ford Smart Mobility

In September 2016, Ford Smart Mobility also announced a partnership with Motivate, a self-service bicycle dealer, whose bicycles are already installed in twelve cities, including San Francisco. In the California metropolis, the two partners will expand the service and rename FordGoBike. By the end of 2018, 7,000 cycles will be available in the Bay Area compared with 700 today.

To avoid missing out on new business opportunities, Ford Smart Mobility has multiplied its initiatives. For example, the company sponsors the Techstars Mobility Accelerator, which incubates start-up specializes in mobility services for people and goods. Created in 2015 and based in Detroit, it has already accelerated 22 young shoots.

Internally, the group is also listening to its employees. Each year, Ford organizes a competition to select the most promising projects on a given theme. In 2016, the manufacturer asked its teams to brainstorm to find intelligent electric transport means to travel on “the last kilometer” in the city, where traditional vehicles are not necessarily practical or authorized. The objectives of this competition called the “last miles mobility challenge”? Help e-merchants to be more efficient in delivering products to the end customer, but also help the individual to move faster on the sidewalks of his city. Of the 633 ideas filed by the auto giant’s collaborators, ten were finally cut and are being prototyped. Ford does not say whether these projects will ever be commercialized.

The Carr-E is a prototype electric vehicle for city dwellers. © Ford

At the MWC group booth, visitors could test several of these prototypes, including the Carr-E. Just climb this round platform about six inches in diameter with four wheels and bend forward to advance. To stop this device, able to carry up to 120 kilos and roll up to 18 km / h, you have to bow backward. Loaded with sensors, this electric skateboard is able to detect obstacles and stops automatically if necessary. Carr-E is autonomous for 40 minutes and recharges in the trunk of the car of its owner.

Ford also introduced Tricity, a device for delivery. This foldable electric tricycle, which fits easily in the trunk of a car, can turn into a devil to carry heavy packages. It is capable of driving up to 20 km / h and carrying 120 kilos maximum.

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