As Ford unveiled its Smart Mobility programs in recent years, we got hints of what the automaker had in store for a generation of consumers with less of a need for personal vehicles. At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford CEO Mark Fields announced FordPass, a program aimed to transform the relationship between consumer and automaker, marking a definitive step in the company’s focus on mobility solutions for millennials.
Ford’s NAIAS press conference offered looks at a new Raptor and three different versions of the new Fusion, but the biggest announcement Fields made surrounded this new mobility program, something he called “perhaps the most revolutionary” platform yet to emerge from Dearborn.
FordPass, which is free to join regardless of whether you own a car, has four components: Marketplace, which offers ride-sharing and car-sharing services managed by smartphones; FordGuides, live operators helping members move within and between cities; Appreciation, offering rewards; and FordHubs, where you can experience products in person.
When FordPass launches in April 2016, the first such hub will be in New York’s World Trade Center. Locations in San Francisco, London, and Shanghai will follow.
The key to understanding this program is noting what an automaker could offer someone who never plans to buy a car. Rather than losing ride-share customers to Uber and Lyft (now a partner of GM), rental car consumers to Hertz, and car-share users to Enterprise and ZipCar, Ford would have a hand in each mobility business while building the ideal cars to power them.
Beyond the Marketplace, FordPass looks to offer 24/7 connectivity and payment simplicity that would inspire loyalty in a new generation.
Throughout Ford’s Detroit Auto Show presentation, Fields and other executives repeatedly defined mobility programs as having one goal: “Making people’s lives better.” FordPass’s appeal has the chance to be as wide-ranging as its ambitions, and the automaker said it wanted to do for car owners “what iTunes did for music fans.”
If early electric car adopters have been affected by range anxiety, you can say millennials have expressed a more general “car anxiety.” Many members of this generation live in major cities around the country and have access to public transportation; a high percentage participate in the gig economy and cannot count on regular paychecks to pay car loans; and many prefer avoiding the hassle of keeping and maintaining a car.
Yet these same people take trips out of town and have to rent cars for more utility while staying local. Ford is hoping to offer this growing group more options in flexible use and ownership while maintaining its core car business. During NAIAS, the company announced a program in Austin that would allow multiple lessees on the same vehicle.
With urban populations growing and congestion increasing with every new resident, automakers are realizing cool new cars are not the answer to mobility problems facing much of the population. If FordPass can deliver on its promise, one of America’s oldest car companies will get more drivers behind the wheel while reducing the anxiety they can live without.
[Ford Motor Company provided the reporter with airfare, accommodations, and meals while detailing the brand’s mobility experiments during the NAIAS Digital Summit.]