Over the last 100 years, Ford has been built on the principle that every person in the United States should be able to afford a vehicle. With pioneering initiatives such as honing the efficiency of automotive assembly lines and controlling all aspects of vehicle manufacturing from metal forging to delivery, Henry Ford was a visionary who helped bring the dream of vehicle ownership to millions. Indeed, part of that legacy is the fact that almost every licensed driver in the U.S. now has at least one vehicle.
But at a recent media event associated with the Detroit Auto Show, Sue Cischke, Ford’s Group Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, said that Ford doesn’t see how that model could work in the developing world. Citing population growth and the massive movement of people from rural areas to megacities, Cischke said there is “unprecedented pressure” on our transportation systems.
“Clearly, the model we have in the U.S. where nearly every licensed driver has a car or two, isn’t going to work in these very crowded regions,” said Cischke. “Quite frankly, as we sit here today [Ford doesn't] have a solution for the transportation dilemmas we find in the megacities, but we’re actively engaged in understanding the issues and finding solutions.”
As a business interested in profit, Ford seems to be conflicted: the company wants to make vehicles available to as many people as they possibly can but knows that it can’t sell vehicles to everybody on the planet. One of Ford’s first steps to addressing this conundrum has been to provide increasingly fuel efficient vehicles—but even this is a stopgap. “Automobiles are particularly susceptible to energy supply disruptions and oil price volatility,” said Cischke. “When we see the prices of fuel fluctuating, we see our sales fluctuating, which is why we’re so focused on improving the fuel efficiency of our vehicles around the world. We recognize that these advanced technologies are needed, but we also know that if they are not affordable, no one is going to be able to buy them.”
But when it comes to addressing the long term growth of personal transportation, Cischke admits that there is no good solution right now. “We’re really in a dilemma that some of these developing countries are now finally coming into an age where they can afford their own personal transportation and would like to have it,” she said. “So on the one hand, it’s hard for us to say to people that they aren’t entitled to the same mode of transportation as the rest of the world has had. On the other hand, if you look at the growth of automobiles in the next ten years, where are they all going to fit and how are we going to have room for them?”
Although Ford doesn’t have an answer to these questions, the company realizes that it needs to be part of finding a solution. “We are exploring models that are going to be different—such as car sharing or shared ownership,” said Cischke. “As far as getting into mass transit or something like that, we haven’t explored it and this is an area that we really don’t know yet just what our role will be.”
Cischke imagines that Ford’s role in developing alternative modes of transportation will lie in delivering information to people through connected devices and vehicles. “We find that people are more apt to use mass transit and other alternative transportation methods if they just knew about them,” she said. “One of the roles we can play is being that aid, whether it’s the in-vehicle communications devices we have or ones that we carry around in our hands, just getting that information to people will help.”