Bill Ford Sees Electrified Future Ahead

Bill Ford

Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company (and environmental iconoclast) Bill Ford wrote a piece for Fortune the other day that has caused some stir, though not enough, in the automotive world. I urge you to read it.

Finally, we get some common-sense talk about where the auto industry is headed, or should be headed. In part, his piece is a bit of a promo for the Ford approach, with the Focus EV and the C-Max, but the main thrust is how to make environmental technology work.

Bottom line: Ford anticipates/hopes/hedges that “about 25% of Ford’s fleet will be electrified by 2020,” that these cars will be fun to drive, with extended range, and tied into a network of GPS and WiFi communications that are part of “a smart transportation system.”

In one way, Ford’s piece is a modest blast at those who believe all this can be done through some kind of hopeful free-market synergy (i.e., without government assistance) and the many critics of hybrid/electric vehicles, exemplars of short-term thinking.

GridlockThe big driver of change, he says, will be constantly rising fuel prices and global gridlock. From 800 million cars on the road today, we can expect as many as 4 billion by 2050.

If the U.S. doesn’t actively promote a smart electrical grid, cheaper batteries and smart systems to coordinate driving, parking and public transit, we will surely lose out to those countries that are actively working on such stuff.

It’s interesting to me that Ford’s examples of inter-car (vehicle-to-vehicle) communication all involve valid safety and time-saving apps—like directing you to open parking spaces, warning of accidents ahead, etc. How different from the complicated, distracting stuff that’s part of the present Ford Sync system!

A similar push for a transformational government energy plan came last week in a New York Times op-ed by Popular Science’s Seth Fletcher. He finds President Obama’s goal of putting a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 not only realistic but necessary. Fletcher acknowledges the historical and political obstructions, but if “we gut domestic clean-energy research, scientists in China or Germany or Japan will finish this work.”

Bill Ford says essentially the same thing. Congrats to him for stepping up to the plate.

If you read Ford’s article, do you think his comments on globalization of the auto industry are correct, incomplete or pie-in-the-sky?

—jgoods

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