Ford CEO calls for cities to be rebuilt for driverless cars
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Ford has called for major cities to be rebuilt to cope with the rise of driverless cars, taxi apps and booming urban populations, warning that city centres will grind to a halt otherwise.
Jim Hackett, the American carmaker's chief executive, warned of "overwhelming pollution and paralysing congestion" if cities continue to grow as they are today.
He said the rise of ride-hailing apps and delivery services would inevitably lead to more traffic unless transport authorities responded, adding that cities filled with cars had become a threat to "civic life".
Hackett, who was put in charge of Ford last year, is tasked with turning the company around after years of falling share prices and fears that it is falling behind in the key battlegrounds of driverless and electric vehicles.
Ford today announced that it would launch an online service that would allow fleets of connected cars to wirelessly communicate with public transport, cyclists and infrastructure such as traffic lights and car parks to manage traffic. Its "mobility cloud" would allow different companies and government bodies to plug into a shared control centre, which Ford said would let cities run more smoothly.
The company also unveiled plans to test a delivery service using driverless cars in a US city in a tie-up with the courier app Postmates. Ford is aiming to release a fully driverless car to the public in 2021, but plans to expand beyond selling cars by selling on-demand services using fleets of vehicles owned by the company.
Ford's self-driving delivery vehicle at CES International. Photo / AP
Under Hackett, Ford is seeking to bounce back against upstarts such as Tesla, which is seen as being well ahead in electric motor technology, and Uber, which analysts say could lead to fewer people buying cars in the future.
Last year, Tesla's market value surpassed that of Ford, despite its car sales amounting to only 1 per cent of its rival's - a sign that investors believe the 114-year-old company is falling behind.
Hackett, who previously ran Ford's smart and driverless car division, has halted a share price decline, cut costs, and vowed to make strides in areas such as connected vehicles.
Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the technology industry's biggest trade show, Hackett painted a picture of city roads shared by cyclists and featuring large pavements instead of parking spaces, with roads that direct driverless cars in order to improve traffic flows.
"The city's transportation grid will mutate around what the cars need," he said.
Jenny Fouracre puts pizza boxes into Ford's self-driving delivery vehicle at CES International. Photo / AP
In unusual comments for a carmaking boss, he said there had been "a price" to the growing dominance of the automobile over the last century and suggested that growing car ownership had eroded community life in some towns and cities.
"Parking lots overtook community centres. Fast-food centres crushed the family diners and restaurants. Technology has been at the expense of our shared sense of belonging."
Authorities in many cities are struggling to deal with rising congestion, which has been blamed on more delivery vans carrying online shopping and ride-hailing apps like Uber.
Urban traffic is expected to triple by 2050, and two thirds of the world's population will live in cities, compared to 54 per cent today, according to the United Nations.
Bosch, a major component supplier to carmakers, is testing sensors that allows groups of cars to scan for empty parking spaces as they drive, so that drivers can find empty spots more easily. It said at CES that it is planning to test the technology in the US this year and is seeking deals with carmakers.
-Daily Telegraph UK