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February 22, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 5:02pm

Ford changes lanes from car manufacturer to smart mobility company

News: Company to triple research investment for autonomous driving technologies.

By Joao Lima

US car maker Ford is transitioning from an automotive company to an auto and mobility company through its Ford Smart Mobility program.

The company transformation was announced by CEO Mark Fields, who has plans for the company to be a leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, and data and analytics.

Speaking at MWC, Fields said that to drive this outcome, the company will be expanding its SYNC 3 connectivity technology to Europe with new apps. The company also plans to triple engineering investment in driver assist technology, in addition to fostering driverless car production over the next three years.

He said: "We are taking the first steps in one of the biggest shifts our company is undergoing in its 113 years history.

"We are further building our business, more vehicles, EVs, trucks, etc, but at the same time we are looking for new businesses such as mobility.

"Transportation is at the cusp of a revolution, and it is inspiring evolution at Ford."

As part of the Ford Smart Mobility program, the company is expanding its SYNC 3 technology to Europe, and will start deploying the technology in the Mondeo, Galaxy and Kuga car models.

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Fields said: "[SYNC 3] will be compatible with Android and Apple. It is more intuitive and even quicker than its previous generations. It can also be updated over the air with a wifi connection."

SYNC 3 allows drivers to control audio, navigation, and climate functions plus connected smartphones using voice commands and/or by interacting with a touchscreen embedded on the car’s cockpit.

Fields also said the company will expand its car-sharing and parking services to European cities and towns over the coming months.

The technologies, GoPark and GoDrive, are already being trialled in London.

With GoPark, currently being used in Islington, Ford is building a predictive parking system that drives drivers to the closest parking space.

The pilot project, which includes Ford and other brands’ vehicles, uses a plug-in device that gives the driver live data for traffic and parking conditions.

The car manufacturer is also rolling out the GoDriver car-sharing pilot service in London, at locations that include Waterloo railway station and the LondonCity Airport.

Fields said: "Almost half of GoDrive users do not own a car. 60% of GoDrive users have chosen an EV at least once. We are now expanding our efforts to parking.

"We are launching GoPark which is a predictive parking system that can direct customers to a place they are most likely to find a parking spot. GoPark is open to everyone."

The CEO also said the company will be tripling engineering investment to bring to the market semi-autonomous driving cars that assist with parking and driving in heavy traffic.

The company, which has a team to develop driver assist technology focused on increasing levels of automation, has already launched smart solutions including Traffic Jam Assist, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, and Intelligent Speed Limiter.

Ford is also investing in a fully autonomous vehicle programme in Aachen, Germany; Palo Alto, California, and Dearborn, Michigan. Fields said he wants the company to lead in the driverless car space.

In his address at MWC, Fields also unveiled the new Kuga SUV, "a modern SUV for the connected world". The company is planning to launch seven new cars this year.

The Kuga SUV will include SYNC 3 technology for communications and infotainment, together with driver assisted features, and a 120 PS 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine.

The car has Ford’s Perpendicular Parking technology that helps drivers park hands free in spaces alongside other cars, as well as the Active City Stop collision avoidance system, and Ford’s Adaptive Front Lighting System for visibility in low light.

Lastly, Fields unveiled the FordPass, a platform that includes a partnership with BP, parking payment company Mobile City and Ford Carsharing members.

He said: "As we make this transition to an auto and mobility company, there is another important part of our strategy: improving customer experience. The opportunity here is literally huge."

The FordPass will debut in Europe later this year. The service includes access to mobility and partners’ services, letting car owners manage their vehicle, including scheduling and maintenance services. It also had features that will help to pay for services, find parking spots via an app, and introduce new customer loyalty schemes.

In the future, the company plans to give priority to FordPass holders at petrol stations to have their tank refuelled by a robot without the need to leave the car.

Fields said: "FordPass re-imagines the entire customer experience. It wants to do to the auto industry what iTunes did to the music industry. Everyone can be a member even if they are not a Ford customer.

He also said that technology and innovation "provide us with the opportunity to address [the evolution of the automotive industry] trends and to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves".


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