The auto industry has faced many challenges during the 30 years that I have been part of it. And over those decades we have evolved our products, and at times our whole way of doing business, in an effort to address them.
For much of that time, the most pressing issue has been sustainability, and reducing the environmental impact of automobiles. This issue is a personal passion of mine, and one where I have spent years advocating for change. Though the road has not always been easy, we have now made technological breakthroughs that are allowing improvements we could only dream about in the past. I am now confident that in my lifetime our vehicles will dramatically reduce their carbon footprint.
However, looking solely at the emissions produced by the vehicles themselves would have addressed just one part of the issue. Not only have we been focused on reducing tailpipe emissions, but we also have invested substantially in making improvements to the way in which we manufacture our cars and trucks. By doing so, we have significantly improved the energy and water efficiency of our factories and have greatly cut the emissions that result from the manufacturing process.
We still have a long way to go, but the industry is now on its way to meeting the environmental sustainability challenge with new technology, electric motors, and vastly cleaner solutions to the internal combustion engine and our system of manufacturing. We’ve taken a holistic view of the environmental challenge, and are in better shape for it.
If you focus too narrowly on the issues you face, you eventually will find yourself on the wrong side of history. That is why we must take a broader view of sustainability. Environmental impact is only one part of the overall challenge.
For the automotive industry, sustainability means products, processes, and policies that add economic, environmental, and social value over time.
When I look at the future in that context, another challenge looms on the horizon that goes beyond individual vehicles: the issue of urban mobility. although it has economic and environmental implications, urban mobility is primarily a social problem that impacts health, safety, and human rights.
Today, there are about seven billion people in the world. That number is expected to grow to nine billion in our lifetime. at the same time, the world is growing more prosperous, and consumers in emerging markets increasingly can afford to buy automobiles.
Right now there also are about a billion cars on the road worldwide. With more people and greater prosperity, that number could grow to four billion by mid-century. Even with zero emissions and renewable energy sources, the sheer number of vehicles that will be on the road could present a serious challenge to economic, environmental, and social progress if we do nothing.
In the decades to come, 75 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities, and 50 of those cities will have more than 10 million people. Combined with four billion vehicles on the road, that raises the possibility of “global gridlock,” a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy, and resources.
A BLUEPRINT FOR MOBILITY
To address this issue, we will once again need new technologies, as well as new ways of looking at the world. At Ford, we have developed a Blueprint for Mobility, which is the start of our thinking on what transportation will look like in the future and what we must do to get there—from the technology road map to the new business models that must be explored.
To start, we need to view the automobile as one element of a transportation ecosystem, and look for new ways to optimize the entire system. a truly sustainable long-term solution will require a global transportation network that includes vehicle, infrastructure, and mobile communications. We need cars that can communicate with each other, and the world around them, to make driving safer and more efficient.
This smart system will tie all modes of travel into a single network linking public and personal transportation. It will use real-time data to enable personal mobility on a massive scale, without tradeoffs or compromises for individual travelers. Pedestrian walkways, bicycles, buses, planes, trains, automobiles: everything will be fully integrated and optimized to save time, conserve resources, and lower emissions.
This connection process is already under way through the introduction of technologies such as Ford SYNC, which allows drivers to bring in and operate their digital devices using voice commands.
The Ford Evos Concept vehicle, introduced last year, begins to explore the next level of connection possibilities. Evos demonstrates how cloud technology can give drivers a personalized connection to the outside world. It can fine-tune its suspension for changing driving conditions; route you around traffic jams; monitor your health; even turn out the lights, lower the thermostat, and close the garage door when you leave home.
Looking further into the future, in the next five years communication technologies will continue to improve and become more widely available. The proliferation of 3-D digital maps and cell-based communications will provide better driver information and entertainment features. We will have ever more sophisticated driver interfaces to manage information flow without leading to distraction. We will be able to use these same systems to proactively alert drivers to traffic jams and accidents.
Vehicle computing power will continue to grow, enabling limited autonomous functions for parking and driving in slow-moving traffic jams. Vehicles increasingly will talk to one another, and the mountains of data they generate will no longer be self-contained and of limited use.
In the mid-term period, to 2025, the amount of data that will flow to, from, and through cars will continue to increase. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technologies will make possible improved safety and denser driving. New technologies will allow more complicated semi-autonomous maneuvers such as limited “auto pilot” functions, including highway lane changing and exiting.
The first efforts to integrate the various pieces of the transportation network will also begin in this time frame. Cars will be plugged into public databases to recommend alternative options such as trains, buses, and carpools when congestion is unavoidable.
We increasingly will take advantage of the car as a rolling collection of sensors, improving reporting of road conditions and weather and coming closer to eliminating accidents at intersections.
I am confident we will see many of these advances on the road by 2025 because the early versions are already being designed, and in most cases tested.
In the long term, the transportation landscape will be radically different from what we know today. By 2050, we will have a true network of mobility solutions, all operating together. Pedestrians, bicycles, and cars, as well as commercial and public transportation, will be woven into a single, interlinked system.
In this fully connected world, automobiles will be very different from today’s vehicles.
We will see the first vehicles intelligent enough to navigate complex environments on their own, and the arrival of autonomous valet functions. Not only will you be able to plot and reserve parking spaces in most major city centers around the world before your trip, your car will also park itself when you drop it off at the garage, maximizing parking density. Gridlock, even in urban centers, will be dramatically reduced. Environmental gains will be substantial as we manage a mix of transportation and energy systems toward maximum efficiency.
Personal ownership will remain, but it will be complemented by sharing services that can instantaneously match you with the right vehicle for your task. Software will be able to plot the most efficient, or most enjoyable, route for your day, mixing a variety of transportation modes.
Instead of building a transportation infrastructure and asking humans to adapt to it, we will have a system that adapts to us. We will also be able to save many of the lives lost each year to tragic accidents.
In the years to come, as more people around the world gain access to the mobility we all take for granted, the realities of global gridlock will become apparent. With all aspects of a network fully aware of and integrated with the world surrounding it, we can envision a time when transportation helps us regain our most precious commodity: our time.
William Clay “Bill” Ford Jr. is the Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company. The great grandson of founder Henry Ford, he has been with the company for more than three decades, serving as President, CEO, and COO. Under Ford’s direction, the company has made progress toward improving fuel efficiency and introduced the world’s first hybrid-electric SUV.