Ford Places a Wager on Smart Mobility and Electric Bikes

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It’s using words like “multimodal urban travel solutions” and “flexible use and ownership of vehicles,” but the message is clear: Ford thinks the at least part of the solution for our transportation challenges in urban areas might be not selling you a car. It’s an ambitious plan called Ford Smart Mobility, and last week, Ford announced its plan to implement it.

“My great-grandfather helped put the world on wheels so everyone could enjoy the benefits of mobility,” said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “Our vision today is to expand that same thinking using advanced technology and new business models, and addressing the mobility challenges people face around the world.”

Those challenges are significant here in places like New York, Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles. The solution up to this point has been “drive a car” or “take the bus.” Ford is now beginning to implement solutions that use cars for the bulk of the trip, but utilize other modes of transportation for the first mile or last mile that may be in a much more congested area that makes driving a car inconvenient and expensive.

We spent some time at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California to learn about some of the possible solutions.

Ford revealed a new electric bicycle and a prototype smartphone app that makes using the eBike easier and safer for urban commutes.

Called MoDe:Flex, the bike’s center frame assembly includes the motor and battery, while the front and rear assemblies and wheels can be configured for road, mountain or city riding. The bike folds and stores inside any Ford vehicle – where it can be charged while stowed.

MoDe:Flex is paired with a with a rider’s smartphone with a MoDe:Link app. The app harnesses real-time information regarding weather, congestion, parking costs, time, traffic and public transportation. It includes eyes-free navigation, route planning, and health and fitness information.

Ford Bike2

Using a smartwatch, a rider can select what’s called the “no sweat” mode, which consistently monitors the rider’s heart rate and customizes the electric pedal assist to keep riders cool and collected if they’re riding MoDe:Flex to the office.

The app also provides safety notifications for hazards ahead, signaled through vibrating handlebars and audible notifications on the watch. It also alerts other drivers when you’re stopping or turning, via lighted alerts on the bar ends.

Ford Bike

Simultaneously, Ford announced its own car-sharing program, aimed at not only selling you a car, but figuring out how you can loan it to somebody to offset the price you paid. It’s a move that aims to take on car-sharing programs like ZipCar, head-to-head. Called Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing, it’s a pilot program for select customers in six U.S. cities and in London.

14,000 and 12,000 customers in six U.S. cities and London, respectively, will sign up to rent their Ford Credit-financed vehicles to prescreened drivers for short-term use, offsetting monthly vehicle ownership costs.

“Consumers tell us they are interested in sharing the costs of vehicle ownership, and this program will help us understand how much that extends to customers who are financing a Ford vehicle,” said David McClelland, Ford Credit vice president of marketing. “As most vehicles are parked and out of use much of the time, this can help us gauge our customers’ desires to pick up extra cash and keep their vehicles in use.”

Accordiing to Penn Schoen Berland, an independent research company:

  • 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.

Ford is offering the program to Ford Credit customers in California – including Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco; as well as in Portland, Oregon; Chicago and Washington, D.C. It runs through November of 2015.

In London, Ford announced GoDrive, an on-demand, public car-sharing pilot. The service offers customers flexible, practical and affordable access to a fleet of cars for one-way journeys with easy parking throughout London.

The program offers:

  • 50 cars positioned in 20 locations
  • One-way trips with guaranteed parking
  • Pay-as-you-go, per-minute pricing covers all fees
  • Availability of zero-emission Focus Electric vehicles

Over the last year, several other car companies have embarked on similar programs. Audi, for example, announced its Audi Urban Future Initiative last year. Programs like Ford’s Smart Mobility recognize the idea that younger consumers may not want to own a car, or may not be able to afford one immediately after college, thanks to the crushing debt they amassed in college. For Ford, offering solutions not only to traffic, but financial realities, may well be a matter of survival.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.

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