Ford Gets Flexible on Mobility

Although there is a lot of attention on how technology is going to change mobility—as in, say, Big Data providing the means by which people will be able to access vehicles for short-term use by tracking vehicle location and availability or Autonomy, which will not only allow drivers to do something else than drive but also provide a better, more predictive traffic flow, consequently minimizing traffic jams and optimizing commute times—a recent announcement by Ford indicates that there is another part of its business that could have a more-immediate effect on different approaches to getting from one place to another.

Although there is a lot of attention on how technology is going to change mobility—as in, say, Big Data providing the means by which people will be able to access vehicles for short-term use by tracking vehicle location and availability or Autonomy, which will not only allow drivers to do something else than drive but also provide a better, more predictive traffic flow, consequently minimizing traffic jams and optimizing commute times—a recent announcement by Ford indicates that there is another part of its business that could have a more-immediate effect on different approaches to getting from one place to another.

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Have you ridden a Ford, lately?

No, it is not the Ford just-introduced MoDe:Flex electric bicycle, the third bike that Ford has introduced this year. This bike is designed so that it can be folded up and stored in a Ford vehicle (and recharged while being stored). In addition to which, it can be quickly converted to road, mountain or city driving. It’s not that Ford is getting into the bicycle business per se, but they are using the bike as a means by which commuters can get to the proverbial “last mile” on a trip. (To keep one’s colleagues and coworkers more pleasantly oriented toward one who has, indeed, used the MoDe:Flex to get to work, there is a smartwatch running the MoDe:Link app, which includes a “no sweat” mode: it checks the rider’s heart rate and then has the bike provide additional electric motor assistance to the ride, consequently reducing potential perspiration during the ride.)

No, the big, sooner change is likely to come from. . .Ford Credit.

That’s right, the lending arm of the vehicle manufacturer.

Ford Credit is piloting a program called “Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing.”

This is being conducted in the U.S. (Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Chicago and Washington, D.C.) and London.

Ford Credit is asking select customers to “rent” their Ford Credit-financed vehicles to a group of prescreened drivers. The connection between the renters and buyers is made via the Web.

Explains David McClelland, Ford Credit vice president of marketing, “Consumers tell us they are interested in sharing the costs of vehicle ownership, and this program will help us understand how much that extends to customers who are financing a Ford vehicle.”

In other words, you buy a car and then rent it when you aren’t using it, thereby getting money that can be used to pay off the loan.

McClelland points out, “As most vehicles are parked and out of use much of the time, this can help us gauge our customers’ desires to pick up extra cash and keep their vehicle in use.”

Arguably, if this was to catch on in a big way, there could be a need for fewer cars or trucks, as if people knew that had ready access to short-term rentals, they might forego that F-150 that they might need periodically for mulch hauling or other occasional use requirement.

But Ford must get credit for understanding that if it doesn’t prepare itself for the mobility space, it might find itself on the outside looking in.