How Ford Can Launch a New Mobility Company
When I was young, my hero was Henry Ford, because he democratized the automobile and transformed the world in a positive way. And now that I’m older, I am still a fan. I would love to see Ford be “reborn” and continue Henry’s legacy forward. They have the elements. It is a matter of assembling them. Ford should become a true mobility leader. To do that, they should launch a company inside of Ford—one that will become bigger than the company that started it.
The key is “smart-sizing” its vehicle portfolio. (Videos on my website explain this). It’s important to realize the common Ford Explorer has a footprint the size of two king-size mattresses. It’s a giant waste of space when moving only one person. So if there is an increase in the number of people who give up ownership for Mobility-as-a-Service, odds are oversized vehicles for one won’t be in much demand.
Co-Creation: Consumers into Collaborators
My Ford newco would not only reinvent mobility, but also how we create this future. The company would leverage co-creation, turning many consumers into collaborators. What’s more, within this company-in-a-company there would be a VC firm dedicated to providing capital for a multitude of smaller mobility start-ups.
My first new offering would bring microtransit (based on Ford Transit vans) together with micromobility. Ford has a scooter service, Spin. Users could scoot to a van, which could then transport them in urban and suburban areas. This service would eclipse Uber and Lyft in many markets by costing substantially less. And as I have written about in these pages, I’d make the seating in the van more like a personal “cove.” And now with COVID-19, I’d make them sanitized seating “pods” to keep riders safe.
I’d build on this micromobility-linked on-demand van service by adding carsharing fleets (that I call Car Libraries) near the van pickup points. I’d launch a truck-share service (called “TRUXX”?). Plus I would go a step further, offering a Magic Garage service, and deliver the desired carshare vehicles to the users home early the next morning after ordering.
I would not focus on individual cities. I would focus on megaregions (e.g., the Great Lakes; Southern California), where 99+% of the car travel today takes place, and have all the needed alternative services located where they needed to be to replace car ownership. I would leverage custom manufacturing and 3D printing to optimize vehicle design for the weather and other local factors in each megaregion. I would also have my AV team looking at higher-speed platooning “road-trains” for inter-city movement.
I would launch a co-creation platform for the Light Low-Speed Modes, enabling a multitude of smaller local vehicle designs. I would also renegotiate Ford’s Dealer relationships, working to turn dealers into “Neighborhood or City Design Centers” and a location for small vehicle builds, among more traditional sales focus.
I’d look to offer a Ford car or SUV AV for sale to consumers, that only offers AV capability on the highway. But this would be a real AV and the driver could sleep when traveling. If it would cost $200K, I wouldn’t care. Build them and sell them ASAP.
Transport with Seatmobiles
But one of my biggest ideas is around the smallest of vehicles. Micromobility is in its infancy, and the common shared e-scooters are primitive – we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. The next wave of micromobility will be what I call “seatmobiles” and look like futuristic wheelchairs.
The Whill advanced wheelchair is one example of this promising new vehicle type. It’s now offered with autonomous control, for in airports initially. But they are slow at 5 mph. A better new vehicle is Segway-Ninebot’s S-Pod, which will be able to travel (under automated control) at 25 mph. These advanced micromobility technologies have the potential to dramatically improve many types of campuses, city downtowns or other zones too large to walk comfortably everywhere. But they will require new infrastructure.
By deploying advanced micromobility there will be tremendous amounts of land converted to other non-transportation uses. So this new Ford company would engage in real estate, perhaps partnering with Toyota on its Woven City in Japan. I’d also begin working with major mall developers, who’s stock’s dramatic downhill slide over the recent years as malls are failing. The company would work to convert these dead malls into mixed-use towns with a residential component.
Last fall Ford announced that it is undertaking the development of a Research & Engineering campus in Dearborn that will co-locate more that 6,000 Ford employees by 2025. They are looking to expand the campus as a network for more than 20,000. This micromobility company would have an ideal start in such an environment.
What would I call this company? “henry.”
The way people are going to get transportation is changing the world over. Get ready for it.
This is the 3E. A design by the renowned automotive designer Camilo Pardo, the man behind many striking designs, including the ‘05/’06 production Ford GT.
Elio Motors is something of a brash company.