THE MUSTANG RISES
Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the iconic Mustang on the Burj Khalifa in the presence of the current Executive Chairman of the company, William Clay Ford Jr. QatarToday was invited to be part of this exciting event.
Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the iconic Mustang on the Burj Khalifa in the presence of the current Executive Chairman of the company, William Clay Ford Jr. Qatar Today was invited to be part of this exciting event.
“Most of my adult life, I used to worry about selling cars and trucks. Today I worry about what if all we do is sell cars and trucks,” William Clay Ford Jr said, right off the bat. Soft-spoken and extremely approachable, the Executive Chairman of one of the biggest automobile manufacturers in the world was nothing like you would imagine. He is just as impactful on stage talking about the future of mobility as he is during an informal chat in a ballroom, discussing the football team he owns.
“Automobiles are my family's heritage, my life's work and deep passion,” he said. “I believe in cars and how they can make people's lives better. I am sure all of us remember the feeling of getting behind the wheel for the first time.” I certainly did. And I certainly remember the feeling not two days ago when I was stuck in a traffic jam for 40 minutes and wished I didn't own a car. The same freedom of mobility that cars have historically provided us is now threatened. “It's a numbers problem. There are seven billion people on the planet now. It'll grow to nine billion within our lifetimes. The one billion cars on the road now will double and possibly double again in the next 30 years. We'll live more closely together and will start to gridlock on a scale we have never seen before,” he warns. Americans already spend a week every year in traffic jams. Average Chinese commutes for five hours a day. “Dubai's road network grew by 50% in the last eight years and already there are warning signs that the highways are reaching their maximum capacity. So it's clear that we can't pave our way out of the problem.”
What is needed is a leap in thinking, according to Ford Jr. “Smart cars built with powerful microprocessors are already a reality but we also need smart roads, smart parking systems, smart public transportation, all connected with each other through wireless telecommunication. That's how you attack global gridlock; with an integrated transportation system that allows real-time, high-speed vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication on a massive scale.” He spoke about Ford's Blueprint for Mobility which is a “multiyear strategy involving many stakehold-
ers with short-, medium- and long-term solutions.” Redefine car ownership.
Another issue that is close to his heart, he says, is environmentalism. And he was acutely aware that the auto industry was constantly cited as a major and unrepentant polluter. His intentions to put the auto industry's large talent base and global footprint to try and make a difference were “wildly unpopular for many years”, even within the industry. “But now Ford has been named one of the greenest brands in the world and we are always working towards improving fuel economy and reducing green house gas emissions. And I believe that truly clean transport is possible in my lifetime,” he says confidently. He predicts that materials like carbon fibre, which are now only used in race cars and exotic vehicles, will find their way to the mainstream.
And he has some other fantastic visions of mobility in the future. “The rise of on-demand and peer-to-peer transportation networks like Uber and Lyft shows that people will find new ways to get where they have to go. Autonomous driving will reduce travel delays and reduce road safety.” He sees a future where, through seamless integration, the consumer will optimise the time he spends on the road. If heavy traffic or road diversion is predicted, the autonomous car will drive you to the nearest train station, just in time for the next train to your destination. If your phone detects a lunch appointment on your calendar, it will automatically order you a cab, knowing that you don't have your car with you on that day. You believe him when he says this is the best time to be part of the industry.
And the future is so imminent and you won't even know when it's here, he says. “A lot of the autonomous tech is coming in right now and in the next 3-4 years; cameras, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control and more are all elements of the equation. So when we get to full autonomous driving it'll be almost anti-climactic. The last piece of the puzzle will be ensuring reliability in an uncontrolled environment when a sandstorm is obstructing the sensors, for example.” But challenges bring out the best in the automobile industry, he says. “In 1896, after years of experimenting, my great-grandfather Henry Ford finished building his first car. But in his enthusiasm, he didn't realise that he had made it too big to fit through the workshop. Without a moment's hesitation, he knocked down the wall with a sledgehammer and took it for a test drive down the streets of Detroit. It's time for us to knock down more brick walls,” he says solemnly.
The sobering conversations of the morning gave way to heady excitement in the evening. On the 123th floor of the Burj Khalifa, after an exciting few minutes that involved a high-adrenaline video, a mysterious package and helicopters going around us as we stood on the deck of the tallest tower in the world, Ford Jr made a dramatic appearance attaching the famous pony insignia to the 2015 Mustang that was waiting there for the final piece. “The Mustang captured the passion, optimism and youthful energy of its time and continues to do so today, 50 years later. And if someone had told me a few years ago that I'd be celebrating this occasion in Dubai, I wouldn't have believed it. But today it is the perfect place,” he said smiling. He fondly remembers the time when people had love affairs with their cars. “I'd love to have that again,” he says, admitting that there'll always be a Mustang in his garage. “I love cars with the latest technology but I will also always drive a manual transmission Mustang for the pure fun of driving it.”
WILLIAM CLAY FORD JR at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Ford Mustang