Thursday 21 November 2019

Motors: Ford goes beyond the car

Car maker's new smart mobility plan puts e-bikes central to its strategy, writes Martin Brennan from Geneva

The Ford GT supercar in Geneva.
The Ford GT supercar in Geneva.
The Ford mobility solutions

Ford is rethinking how it makes vehicles. That is the message from Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company. The great grandson of Henry Ford, the man who put America on wheels with his Model T, believes that forward-looking companies will have to redefine themselves and move from being just car companies to become personal mobility companies.

Drawing on statistics that indicate that the number of vehicles on roads is expected to be between two and four billion by the middle of the century, and this combined with the fact that 54pc of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2050, the current transportation model is not sustainable, he believes. The answer is smart cars that communicate with other cars, smart roads, smart parking - and smart bicycles could be a problem solver too.

While the Ford Performance Team were showing off with great fanfare their exclusive GT supercar, their high-performance Focus RS and other state-of-the-art models at the Geneva Motor Show, down in Barcelona on the same day another Ford team was launching electric bicycles at the Mobile World Congress, a best of bright ideas forum, as part of its plans to extend its footprint beyond cars.

The e-bikes, developed with bike manufacturer Dahon, are equipped with a 200-watt motor with a nine-amp-hour battery that provides electric pedal assistance and operates at speeds of up to 25km/h. The e-bikes are linked to a smartphone app that provides step-by-step navigation, they can be folded to fit in a car boot, and have rear-facing sensors to alert riders when a vehicle is overtaking by vibrating handlebars. More sensors alert motorists to the presence of the e-bike by lighting up the handlebars.

The experiment with e-bikes is part of Ford's smart mobility plan service as the firm is keen to study how such bicycles integrate with cars and public transport, says Ken Washington, vice-president of Ford Research and Advance Engineering. "Being able to seamlessly move between cars, buses, trains and e-bikes and react to changing traffic situations can make a big difference both for commuters and for courier and goods delivery services."

Traffic problems and overly long commutes have been proven to have a significant economic and social impact on cities. According to the European Commission, congestion within the EU costs about €100bn each year.

Statistics from around the world show that the average American spends about a week a year stuck in traffic jams and the average driver in Beijing has up to a five-hour commute. Recently in China a 100-mile traffic jam took 11 days to clear.

At the Geneva Show there was a lot of speculation on Apple and Google entering the motor scene with driverless cars. The best quote came from Fiat-Chrysler boss, Sergio Marchionne, who said that most brands had immunity to what he called 'disruptive interlopers'. "Why should you buy a Ferrari and not want to drive it," was his caustic comment when he said that Apple and Google should not underestimate car makers' ability to respond and adapt. He said it was good to see somebody shake up the industry but the tech companies' move into driverless cars could be disruptive, he felt.

But undeterred, motor manufacturers' stands this year were putting emphasis on in-car technology that can speed up transport and make it safer and less stressful. New models with fuel-sipping engines are all-go as governments crack down harder on C02 emission levels.

At the Aston Martin stand, James Bond would raise an eyebrow at plans to broaden its range of cars to attract more female buyers as well as younger drivers. Executives spoke of new sports cars and a small SUV to compete with offerings from larger premium car makers. Sales of Aston Martin have almost halved to 4,000 in the past 10 years and a big investment is planned, although Aston Martin wants to retain its exclusivity and will cap production at about 7,000 sales a year. The firm launched a DBX concept car, the first all-electric four-wheel drive from the company. Vulcan, a racetrack-only car that will cost more than £1.5m (€2.1m) is on the way - but only 24 models will be built.

Honda showed a new Jazz model which will be here in late summer; more roomy, with a more refined 1.3 litre petrol engine alongside their hot hatch Civic Type R with over 300bhp on tap. Kia also showed their new one-litre T-Gdi direct injection petrol engine with their new Sportage attracting a lot of attention, while cousins Hyundai had a very interesting new Tucson which replaces the ix35. A new i20 three-door coupe is on the way as well as a facelift for the i40.

Of interest to city car drivers was the Sway on the Nissan stand which gives a good hint at what the new Micra will look like, while Opel has a new small car, the Karl, a five-door model that arrives here in the summer and will be powered by a one-litre three-cylinder 75bhp petrol engine.

It was all celebrations on the VW stand as the Passat was European Car of the Year. Their new Touran is a lot more stylish and arrives here at the year end with seven-seat configuration. The Passat GTE is the first rechargeable hybrid in this bestseller while the Golf Alltrack is a cross ­between an SUV and estate car.

Skoda revealed the bigger new Superb, which will be here in late summer, and had a number of interesting models on their stand - the Prologue Avant concept, new R8 models, the RS3 Sportback, an estate with a 367bhp engine giving a 0-100km print in 4.3 seconds, a new styled Q7 and a TT Roadster convertible.

Last year, Toyota showed the Mirai as a prototype but now this hydrogen vehicle is a production model with two high-pressure hydrogen tanks and a range of 480km. Volvo had a new large SUV, the XC90 on show with the S60 and V60 showing rugged cross-country looks. From Japan comes the Levorg, an estate car from Subaru with a 1.6 litre petrol engine which goes on sale in the autumn.

With French flair, Renault launched the Kadjar - a big brother for the Captur crossover. It has more powerful engines and the option of a 4x4 drive. The Peugeot 208 gets a stylish revamp with new bodydwork, colours and the latest on-board technology. Citroen has a new Berlingo and a C4 Cactus Airflow concept car which is brimful of new ideas.

BMW has given the 1 Series a serious restyling and the 2 Series Grand Tourer boasts seven seats in three rows.

Mazda has a new crossover, the CX-3, based on the Mazda2, There is a striking estate car from Mercedes Benz, the CLA shooting brake, with a choice of five engines with a C350 plug-in hybrid also on the way.

Sunday Independent

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