How Ford is using smart technology to own all mobility, not just cars

Ford is expanding the rollout of its connected car systems and plans to increase its investment in driverless car systems as it looks to quicken its transformation into a car and technology business.

Jim Buczkowski, director of electrical and electronics systems, research and advanced engineering, at Ford, told The Drum: “I think there is still quite an opportunity for growth in the world for automobiles, but I think you have to be cognitive of the fact that more cars in the world everywhere isn’t going to work either.”

The rate of innovation in connected cars has been fast, the case for creating a better experience in a place that a lot of people spend time is logical. There’s also the issue of many urban areas being congested and, facing a slowdown in buying in such areas, creating a wider ecosystem is similarly logical.

“Let’s be realistic, how many more cars can you put in a congested area of Shanghai? Certainly with standard of living and income rising in China and Shanghai more people can afford cars, but it doesn’t matter because there’s no place to put them. It’s about trying to be very realistic about how you solve people’s mobility problems. I don’t think we worry at all about selling less cars, we worry about being part of mobility solutions as a whole and it just means this is going to be more diverse,” he explains.

Ford’s stand at Mobile World Congress this week was sizeable and sat alongside major technology and telecoms brands, creating a tangible and visual statement of intent.

It also announced a raft of updates and partnerships for key Ford connected products such as a new Kuga SUV that uses its SYNC 3 tech, partnerships for FordPass and an extension of its tie-up with Flinkster for the Ford Carsharing service.

To do this, the car maker has had to change its personality. Buczkowski explained that while Ford is now very much open-armed about partnering with start ups and media companies, it wasn’t always like that.

“In our industry, partnering has changed dramatically. We used to be a pretty insular type of industry and thought that we could do everything pretty much ourselves, or tell the partner that they would have would do it our way,” he said.

“Tech innovation is moving so fast that we can’t be the source of all innovation, so partnering and relationships are key. It means you have to vet very good strong relationships under the adage of ‘win, win’ and you both need to be successful together. It’s not about putting them behind the scenes because their brand is very strong and very important too, we have to find ways to recognise brands alongside the Ford brand,” he adds.

Being a closed ecosystem had some benefits, however. The news is now peppered with stories about hacks and having to move so fast and into such new territory means all businesses are vulnerable to attacks. Just this week Nissan has pulled the plug on the app or its electric car Leaf over fears of hacking.

Buczkowski said customer data is a prime concern for Ford too but with the right communication and an opt-in service, using data can create value for customers and ultimately extra value for Ford.

“Consumers data is consumers data, it’s not ours. We are stewards and are responsible to keep it safe. Because a lot of data is generated or held within the vehicle, it’s really important that we keep it secure. That said, there is an opportunity to unlock better experiences and value for consumers by using that data. So secondly, with permission, we’ll use that data to create value for consumers. They’ll always be asked to opt-in or out. Helping them harvest that data to add more value to them is really important. That’s the way to create great experiences that people will love Ford for. If I can create value for you then you’ll keep coming back to Ford,” he says.

The respect for consumer data and safety will only become more pertinent when the next phase of innovation that Ford is investing in comes to the fore; driverless technology and automation.