Lately, when Ford talks mobility, the conversation is not all about the vehicle. In fact, it’s often about everything but the vehicle. Mobility innovation is a much broader topic for Ford than how quickly the automobile giant can get self-driving cars into production and onto the roads.
TU Automotive Detroit, the early June conference held at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, offered Ford executives another opportunity to share the company’s plans to develop the Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC), the platform that will leverage the cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) standard Ford plans to roll out in all future vehicles.
In a “fireside chat” session moderated by Roger Lanctot, director of automotive connected mobility at Strategy Analytics, Sundeep Madra, vice president of Ford X, and Nithin Rao, vice president of product management and cofounder of Autonomic, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford, talked about technology, cities, and Ford’s future vision for interaction.
At its core, the TMC is infrastructure that Ford will use, as well as offer to OEMs, even competitors, for their own various platforms.
“Ford shares our vision that the Transportation Mobility Cloud is a platform for the industry,” shares Rao. “The idea is if other OEMs, not just Ford, can leverage a platform that means other users will not have to build the same plumbing and infrastructure over again.”
Instead, OEMs can focus on differentiation and user experience, rather than on infrastructure. Madra compares this future plan to Amazon Web Services (AWS), a digital platform developed by Amazon, but open to other companies to use. AWS powers both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, two competing services.
“They don’t have to focus on the plumbing. We think the same thing will happen in the auto industry,” Madra says. “Developers, which are a precious resource, can focus on providing user services.”
With the platform of delivery already determined, the challenge for future mobility will be the inconsistencies that exist between, and even within, individual municipalities. Through a long history of providing fleet vehicles, Ford has an established relationship with cities. Yet cities have gaps and inconsistencies in their transportation networks, and don’t necessarily coordinate on a regional level with other cities.
“The future of our interactions with cities will be about helping them solve problems of congestion,” says Madra. “How can cities leverage the cloud to make their constraints available to OEMs and developers so solutions can be created.”
Ford’s “city challenge’ program partners with cities to gather data and define their unique requirements for more efficient mobility. According to Madra, Pittsburgh is the launch city for this initiative, and, in Grand Rapids, Ford will engage community members to learn their frustrations and mobility needs. Across the Atlantic, Ford has been working with Transport for London (TFL) to test plug-in hybrid vans for deliveries and other routine journeys in the city to reduce congestion and emissions.
A goal for Ford’s city challenges is to connect with startups and help them scale to solve transportation challenges on the ground. “All OEMs have tremendous scale and that can be a challenge for startups. We help them address scale, and that’s what we are good at,” says Madra.
Moving away from what Lanctot called a “hammer approach” of seeing only existing products as solutions for all problems, Ford is becoming more customer centric, and Madra cited Ford’s Greenfield Labs initiative with IDEO as an example.
“Forget about the technology. What is the customer pain point? The notion of the cities challenge is, again, let’s go understand what the customer wants. We come from a past where we were defining things, and then there was a long cycle in the market,” says Madra.
“In mobility, things are working quicker and you have to get the voice of the customer, so you can adapt your solutions around them.”