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July 18, 2016

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Home » Business » Autotalk Special

Ford sells what’s best for transportation, not just cars

EDITOR’S note:

Internet Plus, a concept heralded in a government policy report de­livered by Premier Li Keqiang at the annual session of the Nation­al People’s Congress in March, aims to push the boundaries of China’s traditional industries into the digital age. Companies across the country are being en­couraged to adopt new concepts and new thinking ushered in by the Internet and the connected society. Shanghai Daily is explor­ing this new horizon in a series of articles examining where we are headed.

Internet plus & auto industry

When the somewhat staid tradi­tions of the auto industry collides with the creative verve of China’s Internet Plus strategy, expect the unexpected.

Like loans to car dealerships shifting from regulated banks to murky peer-to-peer lending online. Like carmakers selling Internet-powered mobility plans that may actually hurt their own auto sales. Like emissions cheat­ers detected by big data monitor­ing and automatically tagged by computers.

Sound implausible? Watch this space.

AT the Mobile World Congress held in Shanghai, Ford looked at first glance like a proud misfit among all those IT companies.

John Larsen, mobility director at Ford Asia Pacific, disagreed. He said his company is in the process of transforming itself from a carmaker into a mobility company, offering solutions beyond just autos.

The future of personal mobility with Ford plays down the importance of private car ownership, especially in a congested, polluted mega-city like Shanghai.

In the future, Ford may be promoting alternative modes of travel, such as shuttle bus plus metro, ride-sharing and co-owned cars. All based on real-time traffic conditions and user preferences.

“Each one of these transport modes has its potential and limitations,” said Larsen. “Part of our vision is to create a portfolio, a mobility ecosystem that allows users to choose options best for their trips.”

It all comes down to algorithms. Ford, in cooperation with Tsinghua University, recently launched a flexible bus line called Panda Express in China’s northern city of Dalian. Using the program’s app, passengers can book rides on Ford transit buses, which run according to real-time user needs.

In rush hours, the program works very much like a normal bus line, except that it accepts seat reservations and only stops when notified in advance. The system makes bus travel 35 percent faster.

Between rush hours, the buses operate flexibly in two main areas to pick up passengers. At night, when normal bus line is no longer available, Panda Express fills in. App users can check on the location of buses to plan their travel.

As car sharing becomes more common, data privacy and security emerge as new concerns. Ford has already taken some precaution with its SYNC operating system.

Julius Marchwicki, director of connected vehicles and services at Ford Asia Pacific, said the system can be personalized by connecting with one’s smartphone. Data uploaded from the phone into the system are encrypted, and run temporarily, safe from the prying eyes of others.

Using the data, Ford can come up value-added services. For example, it can draw a map of the frequent destinations of its users and reserve Ford VIP parking spots for them.

This service is currently available on Ford’s newly announced partnering app Ding Ding Parking.


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