The next phase of Ford's Smart Mobility plan includes several pilot programs designed to help ease the cost of transportation.
When is a car company not a car company? When it's a mobility company.
While that may seem like just a matter of semantics (since cars don't really have any other purpose than moving people and things, unless you count racing or impressing your friends), the difference is in the way that certain car companies, such as Ford, are beginning to address transportation needs beyond simply making more automobiles. Ford is still an auto maker, and its business depends on people continuing to buy vehicles from the company, but the results of 25 recent "mobility experiments" by Ford have led to a couple of new approaches in moving the state of transportation forward.[Note: I have to admit that I've come to really dislike the term car-sharing, because unless it's used to refer to someone actually sharing their car with others, it's rather misleading. If I go to my neighbor and ask if I can use his car for a few hours, just for the price of replacing the gas I used, then I'd consider that car-sharing. If I use a car-sharing service, however, and have to pay to "share" the car, then it's really more like a car rental service (though I suppose the argument could be made that the owner of the car is sharing his vehicle costs by renting it out). And the same goes for ride-sharing, because unlike the old-school carpooling, where just gas (and perhaps parking) costs are shared, today's ride-sharing services are more akin to renting the driver's time than truly just sharing a ride.]
Ford's entries into the ride-sharing and peer-to-peer car rental trend began in January, as part of the company's foray into new approaches to transportation through a series of experiments aimed at gathering data and feedback ("consumer insights") across a range of mobility options. After six months of testing, Ford has narrowed down its focus into two main areas for its latest Smart Mobility initiatives, namely "flexible use and ownership" of vehicles and "multimodal urban travel solutions." April covered the company's multimodal experiment earlier (e-bikes designed to be integrated with Ford vehicles), which is still in the prototype stage, but the other initiative now has some wheels under it, thanks to the launch of two pilot programs for ride-sharing and peer-to-peer car rentals.
The first of its pilot programs is a partnership with Getaround (US) and easyCar Club (UK), which allows select company customers with Ford Credit-financed vehicles to rent out their cars for short-term use, and which could help the car owners earn back up to $10,000 per year. The program will be available to some 14,000 Ford customers in the US (Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland Oregon, Chicago, and Washington D.C.), and to 12,000 customers in London.
According to research from Ford, this approach to flexible ownership is right in line with what Gen Y (Millenials) and Gen Z are open to, and could address what some say is the emerging and future trend of 'cutting the cord':
New findings from Penn Schoen Berland, an independent research company, show:
- One third of Millennials in the United States are interested in renting out their own belongings as a way to supplement their income
- Young Americans rank car rides second only to book lending as things they are most open to sharing
- More than half of Millennials report being open to sharing rides with others
- Half of Millennial and Generation Z consumers point to money savings as the top advantage to sharing goods and services. For 40 percent, it’s the opportunity to try new products, while for 33 percent, it’s having access to more options
The other pilot program, GoDrive, is in London, where the service offers "flexible, practical, and affordable" access to a fleet of vehicles for one-way trips in the city, and includes guaranteed parking in the city. The program includes 50 Ford vehicles across 20 London locations, with a pay-as-you-go pricing model (charged by the minute, all-inclusive) and access to 25 all-electric Ford Focus models for the emissions-conscious drivers. Customers will reserve and access the vehicles through a smartphone app, and membership in GoDrive is free.
While both of these Ford mobility pilots are limited in scope (hence the name 'pilot'), the lessons learned from running them will help inform the future of such endeavors, and the feedback from the participants could be a valuable asset in ushering in a more sustainable model for transportation. Of course, some of the missing pieces of a truly smart mobility plan are the integration of public transit, parking infrastructure, and urban planning into the mix, but even so, these Ford initiatives do seem like they could eventually be a part of a bigger set of transportation solutions.