As part of its continued innovation, Ford Motor Company is driving to be both an automotive and mobility company, ultimately to help change the way the world moves. In an exclusive interview,
Raj Nair, Ford’s Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, told Louis Rumao of
AutoParts Asia, “Our roadmap includes not only smarter cars, but smarter roads and smarter cities. The excerpts:-
Q: A word about the unique and distinguished contribution of Ford?
Raj Nair: More than 113 years ago, our founder, Henry Ford’s calling wasn’t simply to build a strong business by introducing compelling products. He was passionate about the opportunity to create a better society. While he is well known for the invention of an affordable car that put the world on wheels, he was proudest of the mark he made on society. His perfecting of the moving assembly line ushered in another industrial revolution and, his doubling the wages of factory workers helped give rise to the American middle class. He proved that a great business makes excellent products, earns a healthy return and helps create a better world.
Q: What are some of the recent innovations of Ford that helped drive its business growth?
Raj Nair: Some of the innovations are our EcoBoost engines that save fuel, advanced lightweight materials that make trucks more capable, and advanced features and technologies that help drivers avoid accidents and improve safety. As part of the continued innovation, we are driving to be both an auto and mobility company, ultimately to help change the way the world moves.
Q: What do you really mean by ‘mobility’?
Raj Nair: At Ford, mobility is about far more than motion. It is really about progress, human progress. The world is changing. People interact in new ways. Share information differently. And they consume products and services in more ways than we have ever seen before.
Q: What are the factors that drive your thinking about mobility?
Raj Nair: Four important megatrends are driving our thinking about mobility. The first is urbanisation. Today, there are 28 megacities with total populations of more than 10 million people each. By 2030, we can expect to see at least 41 megacities, bringing us congestion and never-ending traffic jams that waste time, energy and resources impacting the future of personal mobility.
Our executive chairman, Bill Ford, has been a passionate advocate of the need for all of us to care more about the subject of mobility. He has for years been warning of global gridlock if we do not deal with the realities of urbanisation. The existing infrastructure for motor vehicles simply cannot sustain the sheer number of vehicles expected to be on the road in the coming years. Our roadmap has to include not only smarter cars, but smarter roads and smarter cities.
Q: What’s the second megatrend that affects the mobility considerations?
Raj Nair: We are seeing a second megatrend, the rapid growth of the global middle class which is expected to double to four billion people, with Asia driving much of the growth. Many in this growing middle class will aspire to own a car, bringing a huge influx of new buyers, but also new set of challenges.
Q: Do environment and sustainability challenge the mobility trends?
Raj Nair: Very much so, and we note them together as the third megatrend concerning air quality and related health risks from congestion. In many of these megacities urban air pollution is a serious social and public health issue. When I lived in Shanghai, there were days you could not see the office building right next door.
Q: What is the fourth megatrend?
Raj Nair: It has to be the changing consumer attitudes and priorities. The Millennials, those born between the early ’80s and early 2000s, behave differently from the prior generations, especially when it comes to mobility. In the US, for instance, 47 percent of the people today like using their smartphones to plan their transportation; 39 percent say they travel by bus, train or taxi so they can multitask; and 34 percent say they would be interested in renting their car to strangers if they could.
Q: How does Ford apply these megatrends to its business planning?
Raj Nair: These four megatrends are changing the way we view innovation and mobility at Ford. We announced Ford Smart Mobility in January 2015 at CES, our plan to use innovation to take Ford to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and big data. All are designed to help us change the way the world moves.
Q: So, what are the enabling technologies that Ford is planning to leverage to become a mobility company?
Raj Nair: There are several technologies that we and the rest of the automotive industry will use.
The first is connectivity, made possible by smart phones! Consider this: Forty-seven percent of Americans today won’t go 24 hours without looking at their phone. In the next year or so smartphones are estimated to total 5.1 billion, which is 80 percent of the world’s population.
We spotted this trend early on and now, SYNC is the most popular communications and entertainment connectivity system in the industry.
There are more than 15 million SYNC-equipped vehicles on roads around the world today, with 43 million expected by 2020.
We are also working to link smart devices like Amazon Echo and Wink to our vehicles, allowing our consumers voice control access between the car and home to control lights, thermostats, security systems and other features from their car.
Q: Will the electric-powered vehicles help the mobility trend?
Raj Nair: Sure! Electrification is definitely a significant enabler and it is a strategic priority for us. Ford was one of the early movers on electrification with over 500,000 electrified vehicles sold so far. Not only is electrification a bridge from our core to our emerging business and key to resolving the important societal issues I mentioned earlier, it represents a change in propulsion technology, which in itself, is a profound change, removing a design constraint that has existed for a century! It’s forcing us to redesign vehicle architecture, and further develop it as an enabling technology for emerging opportunities such as autonomous vehicles and Smart Mobility.
Q: What about the software and sensor technologies?
Raj Nair: These are also very much enabling technologies. Vehicle systems are moving from mechanical to electronics and now to sensors supported by software. A vehicle’s ‘DNA’ is now defined by bits and bytes and the refinement they create versus purely engine displacement, torque and horsepower. Software is the key to our future, as an auto company and a mobility company. There is a whole new class of competitors that we face, competitors that are fundamentally software companies with a software culture.
Q: How will this transition from an automotive manufacturer to a mobility provider help Ford in particular and the automotive industry in general?
Raj Nair: It allows us to re-imagine our value-add as a company, thereby, allowing us to participate in new revenue pools, made possible through autonomous vehicles. Ford has been a leader in Autonomous Vehicle Development for over a decade and, as you may be aware, Ford has fully autonomous vehicles on the road, and undergoing testing.
Q: How will Ford achieve the goal of becoming an auto and mobility business?
Raj Nair: Critical to our success is to attract and retain the right talent to our company to allow us to innovate faster and more efficiently. And we have recognised the need to create an environment that helps attract people of this skill set and capability. We are taking serious steps to create that in Dearborn at our Research and Engineering campus, as well as in Palo Alto, California. Our engineers, scientists and technologists have been challenged to use innovation not to just create better products but to also innovate to make the entire transportation experience easier, to make people’s lives better, and, in doing so, to create a better world.
Q: What are Ford’s product plans for autonomous vehicles?
Raj Nair: We also announced our intent to have a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE Level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation in 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service. This vehicle will be specifically designed for commercial mobility services without a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals. And we expect to have Autonomous vehicles for personal use available to the public by 2025.
Q: Mr. Nair, thank you and you have the last word!
Raj Nair: The world is changing. Consumers are shifting priorities. And great technology is evolving faster than ever before, and that is what continues to drives us at Ford each day!