Fields and Ford’s Future

CES is going on in Las Vegas right now.

CES is going on in Las Vegas right now. It used to be known as the “Consumer Electronics Show.” Now it is known by its initials.

It used to be focused on, well, consumer electronics.

And now it is about, well, consumer electronics.

One of the things that is sometimes lost sight of by many people is that (1) cars are bought by “consumers” and (2) cars and trucks have electronics galore.

So for the past few years, an increasing number of automobile manufacturers are making their way out to CES the week prior to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

No rest for the weary.

The opening press conference for all of CES was held by Ford Motor Co., when CEO Mark Fields took to a stage in a huge room to enumerate Ford’s activities in the transportation/mobility space, rolling out an array of statistics ranging from the number of electrified vehicles that Ford will be bringing out by 2020 (13, based on an investment of some $4.5-billion) to the fact that 2/3 of all fast food purchased in the U.S. is predicated on drive-throughs.

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Know that the very day that Fields was speaking was when Ford announced that with F-Series sales in 2015 of 780,354 trucks, it has had the best-selling pickup in the U.S. for 39 years running and the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 34 straight years.

Meanwhile, at CES, Fields talked about how Ford is working with drone-maker DJI on a development challenge in cooperation with the United Nations that is aimed at coming up with a means by which such things as a drone being able to take off and land in the bed of an F-150 would be practical (this would be used for emergency response, so it is a rather laudable undertaking). Fields received applause from the audience, probably something that wouldn’t have occurred in venues were people aren’t quite as geeked by drones.

F-Series sales? Meh.

At least so far as CES goes.

Fields rolled out Ford’s strategy for its “Smart Mobility” initiative, which ranges from improvements to SYNC3 (SYNC was first announced at CES in 2007 by no less than Bill Gates (and Fields)) to the fact that when it comes to autonomous vehicle development, Ford is all in, not only increasing the number of autonomous Fusions it is testing to about 30, which Fields says will be the biggest fleet being operated by an OEM, but also deploying the third-generation Veladyne lidar system, the “Solid-State Ultra PUCK,” which is sized to fit into the side view mirrors of a vehicle. He also said that Ford is connecting the vehicle to the home, working with Amazon, which is offering its Echo device and Alexa services (you can sit in your house and tell it to start your car; you can sit in your car and tell it to turn on the lights, for example).

As we roll toward autonomy, there is one stat that Fields points out that is probably more relevant to people than being able to have the thermostat in the house adjusted when arrival is imminent or checking the state of charge of the EV in the garage:

City parking. According to Fields, the majority of people who are looking for a parking space in downtown San Francisco spend 20 or more minutes searching, and that accounts for about 30% of urban congestion.

Solving that will be a major step forward for mobility.