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

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