Ford explores ‘personal mobility’ and challenge of traffic-choked cities

Chief executive Alan Mulally outlines plans at Detroit motor show event

Ford Motor, which pioneered the affordable mass-produced motor car, is looking to play a bigger role in building public transport vehicles or integrating cities' transport systems as it grapples with the growing challenge of helping people move around the world's traffic-choked cities.

Alan Mulally, Ford's chief executive, said questions of "personal mobility" and "quality of life" were some of the "most important and exciting developments" around the world and simply providing more and more cars was "not going to work".

Rare insight
Mr Mulally's comments at a Detroit motor show event offer a rare insight into a senior car executive's thinking about the wider transport challenges facing the industry.

Younger people in many industrialised countries are putting off learning to drive and buying vehicles, while in the developing world fast-growing car ownership has clogged many cities.


Ford has long been the car company most open to thinking broadly about mobility issues. Henry Ford, its founder, sought to open up the world's highways "to all mankind" by making his vehicles ever cheaper. Bill Ford, his great-grandson and the company's current executive chairman, also has a history of interest in environmental issues that has shaped the company's approach.

“I think the most important thing is to look at the way the world is and where the world is going and to develop a plan,” Mr Mulally said. “We’re going to see more and more larger cities. Personal mobility is going to be of really ever-increasing importance to livable lifestyles in big cities.”

Mr Mulally admitted to not knowing what role Ford would play in facilitating movement around future big cities and said he believed there would always be a market for cars.

But he added that the company might be involved in integrating the various technical systems driving cities’ transport systems, since it had skills in that area. “Maybe [our focus] will be on components; maybe it’ll be on pieces of the equipment,” Mr Mulally said. “I don’t know.”

People in the US had "re-evaluated" what they wanted from life following the recession and in many cases no longer valued large, prestigious vehicles as highly as they did, he said.

Those people included ageing baby-boomers who were shifting to smaller vehicles such as the Ford Fiesta since they no longer felt the need for anything larger.

To get more young consumers driving, Mr Mulally said the key was to offer more affordable cars.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014