Automakers Hop On The Anti-Car Bandwagon

Few have more to lose than automakers from a movement that wants to sweep away most of the cars that are clogging our streets and polluting our air, but many automakers aren't trying to beat the shared mobility revolution—they're trying to join it.
Ford, Daimler and Nissan all sent representatives to the National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago this week, where smart people talked about using smart phones to share transport and kill the two-cars-in-every-garage mentality once and for all. Toyota signed on as a gold sponsor.
"Getaround's mission is to solve car overpopulation. And automakers' mission is to sell cars. So what's the deal?" asked Padden Murphy of Getaround, a startup that pairs people who need a ride with drivers willing to lend their cars.
"It's actually not true. A lot of the smart automakers see their mission now as mobility."
That might be because they have little choice.
"This is happening," said Gabe Klein, former transportation commissioner for Chicago and the District of Columbia,"and there's not really a way to stop it."
Far from stopping it, automakers are sometimes responsible for starting it. One of the companies that claims to be the world's largest car sharing company, car2go, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler AG. Why would Daimler start a company that frees people from the need to own a car?
"It's all about mobility," said Michael Mikos, car2go's director of strategic development. "They're in the mobility business, and the way cities are changing, in order to stay relevant in these changing environments they have to provide mobility."
Not all automakers portray themselves as trying to stay relevant. According to Ford Motor Company, it's all about being green.
"In our case we'd like to serve the increasing mobility needs of folks while paying attention to the related climate impacts while also addressing the related impacts on resources," said Eric Wingfield, Ford's mobility strategist.
Ford admits there's a problem with the old paradigm of car ownership. People are moving to cities by the billions, and many cities already have more cars than they can handle.
"Existing infrastructure as it is cannot sustain the sheer number of vehicles that are predicted to be on the road in the near future. And at Ford Motor Company, we're very aware of it," he said.
So Ford is looking not only at what it refers to as "flexible use and ownership" of automobiles, but also at the booming new bike share industry, which has gone from 500 shared bikes to 30,000 in the U.S. in five years.
"So we focused on bicycles. How could we pair a bicycle with a vehicle. What could we learn from pairing a bicycle with a vehicle?"
You've heard of the Ford Focus and Ford F-150, but how about the Ford MoDe:Me, an electric bike designed to be paired with a car, or the Ford Mode:Pro, a folding e-bike paired with a van for urban deliveries.
"A truck driving through a congested environment may have trouble closing that last gap," Wingfield said. "A bike folded up, connected with the deliveries that you want to make, can be unfolded quickly, paired with the package that you want to deliver, and then used on roads and paths to get to the destination in a much quicker way."
Wingfield also noted the 4.3 billion cell phones in use in the world today, and that Ford expects that number to reach 5.1 billion in two years. That's a lot of potential customers for a company that foresees the demise of traditional car ownership.
"That means access to people around the world is going to be significant," Wingfield said, "and for all these mobility systems access for everyone is part of the issue, part of the opportunity."

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