A car­maker’s vi­sion of the city of the fu­ture

South Canterbury Herald - - MOTORING - DAMIEN O’CAR­ROLL

What will the city of to­mor­row look like? What will it be like to live in?

While it would be easy to say ‘‘like they now, but big­ger and hope­fully with fly­ing cars’’, only one part of that is ac­tu­ally go­ing to be true: the bit about be­ing big­ger.

At the mo­ment there are 22 cities in Asia alone with pop­u­la­tions that will soon ex­ceed 10 mil­lion and that num­ber is only go­ing to grow.

While New Zealand is tiny in com­par­i­son, th­ese trends will af­fect us through the prod­ucts and ser­vices we buy.

Tra­di­tional car man­u­fac­tur­ers in par­tic­u­lar will have to adapt and change to suit the needs of cus­tomers who, by sheer weight of num­bers, will be pri­mar­ily liv­ing in th­ese su­per-cities.

A few years back Ford an­nounced that it wasn’t a ‘‘car’’ com­pany in a tra­di­tional sense any more, and would be even less so in the fu­ture. Ford, one of the Big Three US auto man­u­fac­tur­ers; part of the back­bone of the Amer­i­can dream of a house, a nice car and 2.5 chil­dren, a com­pany that was built by the car as much as it built cars, had be­come a ‘‘mo­bil­ity com­pany’’.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years Ford has been in­vest­ing in tech­nol­ogy star­tups and has also started a new di­vi­sion of its own, Ford Smart Mo­bil­ity LLC. Ac­cord­ing to Ford, this is ‘‘de­signed to com­pete like a startup com­pany’’ and will de­sign and build mo­bil­ity ser­vices on its own through its Green­field Labs busi­ness in­cu­ba­tion team.

It also col­lab­o­rates with star­tups and tech com­pa­nies, such as the com­pany’s ac­qui­si­tion of Char­iot, an app-based, crowd­sourced shut­tle com­pany, and its col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mo­ti­vate to launch Ford GoBike in San Fran­cisco.

Ford re­cently held a City of To­mor­row sym­po­sium in New Delhi, In­dia, in con­junc­tion with TED talks. Dur­ing the event we got a chance to sit down with the CEO of Ford Smart Mo­bil­ity, Rajendra Rao, and Ford’s ex­ec­u­tive director of strat­egy, for Asia-Pa­cific, Jef­fery Jones, to talk about what they think the city of to­mor­row might look like.

‘‘You have to ques­tion the fu­ture,’’ said Rao. ‘‘Is what we are en­coun­ter­ing to­day with con­ges­tion, grid­lock and the lack of mo­bil­ity a fu­ture that will be sus­tain­able?

‘‘What we are most con­cerned about is what ac­tions we can take to make the most im­pact and drive the fu­ture?’’

Ac­cord­ing to Rao, this means we should be al­lowed to freely ex­pe­ri­ence cities at their best, which means be­ing able to ‘‘ac­cess all the riches of the com­mu­nity with­out hav­ing to bur­dened and shack­led by lack of mo­bil­ity.’’

As an ex­am­ple, Jones cites a project the com­pany is cur­rently work­ing on in the city of In­dore in In­dia, where it’s help­ing the lo­cal gov­ern­ment to en­cour­age higher use of pub­lic trans­port, a some­what un­usual project for a car com­pany to get in­volved in.

‘‘It is to help im­prove trans­porta­tion sys­tems and it is much broader than just tra­di­tional ve­hi­cles,’’ he says.

‘‘It is look­ing at all forms of trans­porta­tion. It’s look­ing at the multi-modal jour­ney.

‘‘There is a com­bi­na­tion of shared mo­bil­ity el­e­ments that will go into that city of to­mor­row: ev­ery­thing from ex­ist­ing rail trans­port to shared meth­ods of trans­port.

‘‘Help­ing cus­tomers on the jour­ney and tak­ing out some of the ’pain points’ along that jour­ney is what we are try­ing to do in In­dia.’’

While just a decade or so ago it may be easy to dis­miss such prob­lems as be­ing some­thing for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, the re­al­ity is that it is some­thing that we need to be ad­dress­ing right now, and not nec­es­sar­ily in con­ven­tional terms, ac­cord­ing to Rao.

‘‘I think the prob­lem is so sig­nif­i­cant right now that we should try un­con­ven­tional meth­ods to solve it. I think if we try the con­ven­tional meth­ods that have been go­ing on for the past 25 years we might be sit­ting here 10 years from now with an even big­ger prob­lem on our hands.

‘‘My fear is not hav­ing enough un­con­ven­tional ideas."

GoBike and Char­iot: Ford has been in­vest­ing in star­tups that have noth­ing to do with tra­di­tional trans­port mod­els.

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