Ford CEO sees cities reclaimed

EDITORIAL

Ford chief executive Jim Hackett has given a fascinating keynote address at an annual consumer technology conference in Las Vegas this week, where he lamented the negative impacts cars have had on society and outlined a future of transportation “systems” that move people and goods more efficiently, allowing cities to be redesigned.

Hackett’s business career has been outside the vehicle industry, until he joined Ford’s board in 2013. He was soon overseeing a “smart mobility” unit responsible for car-sharing, self-driving and other programmes aimed at helping the 114-year-old automaker compete against tech companies edging in on the auto industry. He took over as CEO in May last year.

Hackett lay down a challenge to his adopted industry and city planners the world over. He described the automobile as the “ultimate disrupter to humans’ lives and our civic way of life”. Where people once gathered in the streets and town squares, there were now highways and multi-lane roads; streets took up a third of public land in cities and the transport systems of most big cities had reached capacity. Time people formerly spent together was now wasted in traffic congestion.

“With the power of AI (artificial intelligence) and the rise of autonomous and connected vehicles, we have technology capable of a complete disruption and redesign of the surface transportation system for the first time in a century. Everything from parking, traffic flow and goods delivery can be radically improved  —  reducing congestion and allowing cities to transform roads into more public spaces.”

A Ford executive at the CES conference said the company was now stressing a “systems-based approach”, where Ford would build an open-source operating system for transportation that was available to all companies, as well as a network of services that stress its industrial-grade vehicles.

Investors will probably have been more reassured by the six-point plan Hackett announced in October, which is mostly about making the carmaker more profitable but includes a $US4.5 billion spend on electrification, and making internet connectivity a priority.

Ford chief executive Jim Hackett has given a fascinating keynote address at an annual consumer technology conference in Las Vegas this week, where he lamented the negative impacts cars have had on society and outlined a future of transportation “systems” that move people and goods more efficiently, allowing cities to be redesigned.

Hackett’s business career has been outside the vehicle industry, until he joined Ford’s board in 2013. He was soon overseeing a “smart mobility” unit responsible for car-sharing, self-driving and other programmes aimed at helping the 114-year-old automaker compete against tech companies edging in on the auto industry. He took over as CEO in May last year.

Hackett lay down a challenge to his adopted industry and city planners the world over. He described the automobile as the “ultimate disrupter to humans’ lives and our civic way of life”. Where people once gathered in the streets and town squares, there were now highways and multi-lane roads; streets took up a third of public land in cities and the transport systems of most big cities had reached capacity. Time people formerly spent together was now wasted in traffic congestion.

“With the power of AI (artificial intelligence) and the rise of autonomous and connected vehicles, we have technology capable of a complete disruption and redesign of the surface transportation system for the first time in a century. Everything from parking, traffic flow and goods delivery can be radically improved  —  reducing congestion and allowing cities to transform roads into more public spaces.”

A Ford executive at the CES conference said the company was now stressing a “systems-based approach”, where Ford would build an open-source operating system for transportation that was available to all companies, as well as a network of services that stress its industrial-grade vehicles.

Investors will probably have been more reassured by the six-point plan Hackett announced in October, which is mostly about making the carmaker more profitable but includes a $US4.5 billion spend on electrification, and making internet connectivity a priority.

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