LAS VEGAS — Ford may be best known as an innovative car manufacturer.
But the creator of the Mustang, Escape and F-150 is evolving, and CEO Mark Fields says 2016 will be a pivotal year for the Dearborn, Michigan-based company as it expands its vision beyond designing, marketing and financing vehicles to changing “the way the world moves.”
Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show Tuesday, Fields indicated that Ford will expand aggressively into the $5.4 trillion transportation services market, exploring new ways to more effectively and efficiently move people to their destinations.
There are big problems to solve. Fields noted that 1.2 billion people spend an average of 50 minutes driving each day. In the U.S., Fields added that two thirds of all fast food purchases are now made from within cars.
“Beginning this year, you are going to see us change pretty dramatically, becoming an auto and a mobility company,” said Fields, who took the reins of the car maker last year. “You’ll see us focus even more attention on the transportation services sector, even as we maintain our emphasis on our core business.”
For Ford, this transformation just makes solid “business sense,” said Fields. Currently, Ford owns about six percent of the $2.3 trillion global automobile market.
In transportation services, however, Ford is not really a player, even though the market for mass transit, taxis, ride sharing is more than twice as big at $5.4 trillion.
Beginning in 2016, Ford’s lack of presence in transportation services “has got to change,” Fields said.
The car company is not alone in this thinking. On Monday, General Motors announced a $500 million investment in Lyft, the ride-hailing service that is looking to take on Uber. Part of the plan is to create a network of driverless cars, with GM president Dan Ammann saying that they “see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous.”
Those words were similar to what Fields shared Tuesday at CES.
“We see being an automotive and a mobility company as being a massive opportunity, and we are very serious about investing in, innovating in and leading in both,” he said.
While Ford has not yet invested in Lyft or Uber, the auto maker is looking at new ways to tap into the market with a test program in London for its GoDrive peer-to-peer ride-sharing service.
Fields also touted Ford’s work in autonomous vehicles, saying the company was an early adopter of the concept and continues to evolve its offerings. During the keynote, the company introduced a new Velodyne “ultrapuck auto sensor” that’s designed to better sense road conditions and obstacles.
Even so, Ford now faces new competition in the market for autonomous vehicles, with the likes of Google, Tesla and Uber expanding aggressively in the market.
Does Fields sense that growing threat?
“Now, people often ask me: How does the auto industry need to change in order to avoid being disrupted like so many other industries in the digital age,” he said. “And we look at this disruption differently. We actually look at it as an opportunity, an opportunity to make people’s lives better and changing the way the world moves. This very simply is our vision at Ford, and it has been since Henry Ford started our company 113 years ago. And that’s why we are completely rethinking how we approach the business, with one foot in today and one foot in tomorrow.”
In addition to those remarks, Fields also discussed a new partnership with Amazon’s and its Echo device and a project with DJI to launch drones from the back of F-150 pick-up trucks to survey disaster areas.