Skip to main content

Bill Ford says smart cities aren’t ‘just a science project’

Bill Ford says smart cities aren’t ‘just a science project’

/

Ford Motor Company Chairman imagines a time when machines and humans share the road

Share this story

New Models Debut At North American International Auto Show
Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

In many ways, Ford Motor Company’s future is defined by its past. Bill Ford, the chairman of the company, and the great-grandson of its founder, announced plans to invest $11 billion in electrified cars at the North American International Auto Show. I spoke to Ford at the show, who expressed his enthusiasm over the company’s shift in direction to a broader vision for transportation than the cars, SUVs, and trucks it currently sells.

I love the idea of the social justice component of smart cities, but how do you reconcile that with the present where there’s such a mess with public transportation in so many areas, like New York where I live?

The vision has to be there and you have to work toward it. If you can get people out of poverty and getting to where the work is and deliver health care and food easily in city centers, we will enhance the quality of life and standard of living around the world and that’s a worthy goal. But you’re right, we’re not there yet. We’re at the early days of working toward that and I feel really good about that.

“It’s not just a science project”

Do you partner, for instance, with the MTA?

Yes is the short answer. We have a whole business group called City Solutions that partners with cities. New York happens to be one of them because every city is different. Every city has its own transportation assets, their own problems. What we’d love to be able to do is to get all the transportation assets of a city onto a single software platform, so that you as a customer can optimize how you’re moving around that city. So we have a dynamic shuttle called Chariot. Chariot will know the train is running seven minutes late so Chariot won’t have to take up curb space for seven minutes, because it’ll all be on the same software platform. So we’re working toward that with cities. And cities have a great need for this and they are very interested in developing solutions. One size doesn’t fit all, because what’s needed in New York is not needed in LA, Columbus or any place else. Having said that, they’re a lot of common issues.

Latest Consumer Technology Products On Display At Annual CES In Las Vegas
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

So you are in the research phase?

We’re moving out of research into pilot phases. In some ways that’s research, but we’re starting to build solutions that we’re starting to work with cities on. We’re not as far along as we will be two years from now. So it’s not just a science project. We have real, concrete things we’re working today that will make cities’ lives easier. We will continue to build on those things. Each year will get better and better. We will have more to offer the cities each year.

On the list of goals, what do you put at the top?

For cities or for Ford?

Both.

You have autonomous driving coming, you have the environmental aspect, the electrification of our fleet and less congestion means less pollution, but also electrification does it as well. The autonomous vehicle, the cleaning up of the fleet, the City Solutions enabling. It’s not just cars — subways, buses, trains, taxis, Ubers, Lyfts all on the same platform. We’re tackling a lot. I wouldn’t exactly rank one over the other. They’ll all fit together when it all comes to pass.

“I hope we never lose the delight”

Something that occurred to me watching the news at CES and here, is that it’s an interesting role for the car companies to play, to be educators of the general public.

That’s right.  A lot of this is known and felt by the general public even if they haven’t articulated it. They know they sit in traffic. They know the air isn’t as clean as it could be. They know their life would be easier if they could have easier trip planning. But you’re right, they don’t know what the solutions will be yet. That’s where the cities and ourselves can play a big role in education. We’re not there yet. These solutions aren’t ready for primetime yet. We’re working on them. They will be eventually.

When I think back to the past, people would show concept cars for delight, not always practical reasons.

I hope we never lose the delight. There will always be an emotion to the vehicle business, and it may express itself very differently. In autonomous vehicles, it may be that you get into that vehicle, probably through your cell phone it will know you. It will know your favorite color is purple and the skin turns purple. It will know you like listening to R&B, so R&B music will play. It will know you like double espressos at Starbucks so it will ask you, do you want to stop? That will be a way of personalizing a vehicle too, it’s just different than today’s personalization, which is largely about styling, and horsepower, and handling.

The auto show is also where people come to shop for what they buy now.

Of course. And that won’t change. We’re going to live in this bifurcated world for some time, where conventional vehicles will still be sold to individual customers. Yes, they will have more of the features that will ultimately lead to autonomy in them, and then you’ll have different solutions for urban areas.

In the past at auto shows, people didn’t show cars or ideas that weren’t close to being available, except for concept cars. But now we’re talking about how this may happen in our lifetime. It’s not the flying car scenario.

Although the flying car scenario may happen in our lifetime, too.

At least the VTOL version.

I know there are a lot of issues with that though technically, it will be possible. Now whether it’s actually a benefit to society...

How do you curb that benefit to society versus the push for possibility? Where does demand come from?

We always have to keep our eye on the individual person, and say ‘Is this benefiting them?,’ and not fall in love with the technology just for its own sake. There’s so much technology happening today where it can overwhelm people and they could throw their hands up and say ‘This is confusing me.’ Our approach at Ford is to always put the human at the center of every question we ask, and say ‘Is this actually a benefit to them?’

Not giving it up to the robots?

Or at least not all to the robots.

What makes you personally most excited?

Oh gosh, I’m so excited.

“Oh gosh, I’m so excited”

You’ve been talking about these ideas for a lot longer than the company’s been on this.

That’s true, and I’m so happy to see it all starting to happen. I get up every morning and I’m so energized. I just wish I was 20 years younger. On the other hand, I plan to be here awhile. But this will change our business very fundamentally the way nothing has to date. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

Photo by Sean O'Kane / The Verge

What do you tell people who are like, ‘I just want another Bullitt?’

They can have one. And that’s the great thing. We will live in this dual world for some time. If you love cars and you love driving and want to own one, we’re going to offer you some great ones. But if your life doesn’t allow that, because of where you live or your circumstances, we’ll have solutions for you, too.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 28 minutes ago Not just you

T
Youtube
Thomas Ricker28 minutes ago
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.