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Ford Motor trying to understand mobility challenges in India: Sheryl Connelly

LiveMint logoLiveMint 19-09-2017 Amrit Raj

New Delhi: Ford Motor Co. is holding a City of Tomorrow Symposium in New Delhi on Wednesday. The idea is to understand the mobility challenges in a country like India, which offers diverse terrain, congested traffic system and burgeoning population. Any breakthrough here will be a global success, said Sheryl Connelly, manager, global consumer trends and futuring at the auto maker. The company is exploring areas such as dynamic shuttles, car sharing and ride sharing in India, she said, adding the biggest challenge remains around monetising these steps, which are not about traditional mobility. Edited excerpts:

India is a very interesting market when it comes to providing transportation solutions. What can you do in that context? I understand you guys have done a lot in China, especially in Beijing, where one traffic jam stayed for 12 days.

China example is incredible. It is not a problem, which can be solved by infrastructure alone. So, Beijing has an average daily commute of about five hours.

To me, it is unimaginable. In the US, we face traffic but it is nothing compared to what you are dealing with. Those challenges are only going to be accelerated as the population of India grows. It is really interesting because we have been in the country for over 20 years and we are talking about finding solutions, which has nothing to do about manufacturing. I think that is an exciting prospect. It took us a little while to get there. We are talking about it for over a decade and the idea seemed so contrary to everything that we do... It is completely wide space for us. So, we are exploring bicycles, dynamic shuttles... we are looking at car sharing, ride sharing. We are not doing it ourselves. We need to partner with cities. We need to understand each region, which makes it unique and work with public private partnership to make life of Indians better.

In specifics, what are you doing here?

We are doing something with the city of Indore and we did a hackathon to understand what can we do to improve on congestion. There is urban transportation but why ain’t people taking it? What needs to change? So, we are talking to people about what do you envision? As we try to figure out what that solution looks like, what does that mean in infrastructure? What does that mean for connected cars? What does it mean for connectivity? Do cars need to talk to each other? Do cars need to talk to infrastructure? What will power these vehicles? Will it be electric vehicles? If they are electric vehicles, how will we figure out charging solutions and where will they be placed? And there is this unanswered question on autonomous vehicles...

Ford believes that it will have autonomous vehicles on road by 2021 in the US in limited application—may be for packaged delivery... may be for ride handling services... In a country like India, the idea is to how do we make it accessible, affordable and in a way improve quality of life... All we know now is that it is not going to be one-size-fits-all solution.

How will you make money in what you are doing?

That is the million dollar question! One of my colleagues says that Ford Foundation is about charity. Ford Motor Co. is about making money. So, we have to figure out how do we do it in a way that it still makes people’s life better but it has to be profitable at every step on the way. We are not racing to the marketplace. We don’t feel that we have to be the first one to have an autonomous vehicle. We want to make sure that when we enter that... we want to do that in a way that is smart for our business.

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