Ford looks to the future of motor industry

Report on consumer trends highlights view technology less error-prone than humans

 

Consider the arrival of self-driving cars, car-sharing schemes and a host of alternative fuel options: you can see why car firms face an uncertain future.

The car firms see the onset of software as both a threat and an opportunity but they don’t want to back the wrong technology.

That’s why the likes of Ford now include so-called futurologists among its staff these days. Far from gazing into crystal balls or reading tea leaves, however, the car firms are looking for a steer as to where the money is in the future of mobility.

This year’s report Looking Further with Ford has been penned by Sheryl Connelly, head of global consumer trends and futuring at Ford.

Among the general global social trends – 68 per cent of adults are disillusioned with civic and political leaders – it delves deeper into the areas relevant to a firm such as Ford.

Key among these is the impact of connectivity on people’s daily lives, where it reports that time poverty is an effect of the increased connectivity, where people feel compelled to be connected all the time and where they are looking to “outsource the more mundane tasks” such as house- hold chores and commuting.

One question that throws up an interesting result is the relationship with self-driving cars. When asked if the benefits of autonomous machines outweigh the risks, in countries such as China and India 73 per cent and 70 per cent of those surveyed respectively agree. This compares with just 43 per cent of British people surveyed. According to Connelly, this may highlight a view that technology is less error-prone than humans.

Speaking to The Irish Times she said that in countries with poor road safety records the idea of automated cars seems to be more warmly welcomed.

Older drivers

Another benefit of the move towards self-driving cars and greater autonomy is in the area of ageing.

Connelly said that with Western societies getting older and life expectancy increasing, cars that provide systems such as Ford’s “Active City Stop” – where technology intervenes to automatically prevent a collision up to speeds of 50km/h or more – will be a major benefit to older drivers.

Ensuring that elderly motorists can still benefit from the freedom offered by access to a car will become increasingly important, she said.

Unfortunately for the executives at Ford, the report doesn’t offer a definitive road map of the future, nor does it identify which future fuel source should be the focus of their R&D investments.

However, it does offer a timely perspective on the increasing complexity of the mobility and the challenges facing Ford into the future.