Despite what you might assume, former CEO of Ford Bill Ford Jr. is among the personal car’s most outspoken (and knowledgeable) skeptics. He ran the company from 2001 to 2006 and now acts as the company’s executive chairman.
According to Ford, the booming populations of the developing world are not Ford’s next new customer base.
This is because these young cities suffer from a discrepancy between the development of their infrastructure and the amount of cars already on the road. According to the Transportation Research Forum, only four of the fifteen largest mega-cities are located in highly industrialized nations. That means many highly populated urban areas suffer from a lack of city planning options and sustainable public transit, leading to roads bursting with cars and, accordingly, terrible traffic becoming the norm. This issue begets even more issues, from the negative environmental impacts of car exhaust to public health issues to city-wide economic losses. The traffic jams in Dhaka, Bangladesh have been equated to an annual productivity loss worth US $3.86 billion. In many places, traffic is so bad that food can’t be delivered and ambulances can’t reach their urgent destinations, constituting very real human rights issues.
“Unless we figure out a very different urban transportation model, it’s not gonna work,” Ford explains. “If you think we’re gonna shove two cars in every garage in Mumbai, you’re crazy.”
Ford isn’t worried by the barriers that these populations represent. Instead, he is leading his company in an innovative direction to find an alternative route to urban transit. Ford is running operations based out of Silicon Valley that are geared towards developing remote-controlled cars equipped with useful gadgets for traffic-dense areas. For example, the cars would have the ability to locate empty parking spots.
In this day and age, it’s necessary for companies like Ford to be open to change; market-disrupting technology is a constant reality and only the most versatile companies can survive the modern tech whirlwind. If anything, Ford is playing catch up. Uber and ZipCar are the historic public-transit market disruptors, with Google and Apple working hard on their own innovations (autonomous driving, vehicle to vehicle communication, etc.). And let’s not forget the budding plans for SpaceX’s Hyperloop.
When asked for his vision of the automotive future, Bill Ford was hesitant to offer any concrete prediction. He did say that he believed that at one point all modes of transportation will be connected by one financial service. According to Ford, it may one day be the norm to pick a destination and pay one price to take multiple modes of transport.