Ford — the automaker and its executive chairman, Bill Ford — is concerned about the future of urban mobility. So are Audi of America executives. And so at different forums this week, half a world apart, they've been promoting their insights into the traffic congestion to come with the world's burgeoning population, and how vehicles and techology — both their own, and shared, and even public-sector help — can help us tolerate and even navigate all of that.
The first order of business for Ford scion and executive chairman Bill Ford was to unveil B-Max at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the company's first car to offer Sync and its voice-activated infotainment system in Ford models in Europe. Ford's target is 3.5 million Sync-equipped owners in Europe by 2015, though Sync availability on the continent trails that in the United States by four years.
Bill Ford has always been a wide thinker; he was one of the true "green" trailblazers at the top of the U.S. auto industry. So in Barcelona, he also unveiled his "blueprint for mobility," a call to action for the Ford, the auto industry and the tech community to help foster the future of urban transportation. He's particularly concerned about how automakers, in collaboration with each other, consumers, and with governments, can ease the space crunch that seems inevitable as global population burgeons and continues to shift toward the biggest cities.
"What I'm really worried about is the role of the car in the long term," Ford told the Associated Press. "If we do nothing, it will limit the number of vehicles we can sell. If we can solve this probloem of urban mobility, I think there's a great business opportunity for us."
As he told the Wall Street Journal, Ford is accelerating its investment in "vehicle-to-vehicle communications" and other technologies that will help cars communicate with one another to keep their distance in traffic jams, instantaneously communicate automatically about imminent traffic difficulties and even accidents forming ahead, and perhaps take over operation of the vehicle if the driver is in real trouble or intractably mired in traffic. Other appeals of such technology would be sophisticated self-parking and an ability for consumers to enjoy more infotainment amenities in the car without having to worry about actually piloting the vehicle.
Making good on its public collaboration promise, Ford is crowdsourcing ideas on Twitter about how to tackle urban-mobility challenges, so at Barcelona, it has invited attendees to respond to this issue via a #FordMWC hashtag. The company is also using Storify to curate user suggestions.
Meanwhile, Audi of America executives led by President and CEO Johan de Nysschen are similarly soliciting ideas on the future of urban mobility today from fellow attendees at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference in Long Beach, Calif. Audi's asking for input at #AudiTED and entertaining discussions at the Audi Social Space, featuring touch-screen video installations that facilitate interaction between the company and visitors at its display.
Audi also is presenting what a company statement called its own "vision for the role transportation will play in the world's increasingly congested urban centers of the future," which it expects to include "piloted" vehicles, as well as promoting its e-tron EV technology that soon will be featured on a pilot basis in Audi A3 sedans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, D.C.