For American automakers Ford Motor Company and General Motors, the fight to claim a portion of transportation revenue is on. GM last month announced the launch of a new car-sharing service named “Maven,” after having invested some $500 million into Uber-rival Lyft, and purchasing ride-share company Sidecar.
Ford’s “Smart Mobility” Plan has been decidedly less narrowly-focused.
While both automakers realize there might be great benefit to modernizing and expanding to incorporate transportation services into their businesses, Ford’s Smart Mobility is much more about experimentation than GM’s straight-forward Maven. In other words, while Ford recognizes that “the economics of getting around have changed fundamentally,” as Automotive News puts it, Ford Motor Co. isn’t presuming to know the most effective way to catch up.
“We’ve got experiments going everywhere, and the one thing about experiments is some of them will fail, for sure, and the question then is how we deal with failure,” said Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “If it’s the old model where failure means you’re going to be shut down and punished, we won’t innovate at all.”
So far, the FordPass membership service is the most concrete, public component of the Smart Mobility Plan, offering things like the ability to find and pay for parking in advance or borrow and share cars through FlightCar through a smartphone app. Otherwise, pilot programs like Ford’s “GoDrive” car-rental program in London, its Dynamic Shuttle program in Dearborn, Michigan, and a deal with San Francisco car-share startup Getaround litter the field – programs with which Ford can “test the waters,” without fully committing the time and capital required to roll-out a new service full-scale.
The automaker has yet to place any major bets like General Motors did with Maven. The question thus becomes: will the nebulously-defined, experimental nature of Ford’s Smart Mobility lead the company to a new breakthrough in the world of mobility? Or will Ford simply lose precious time while GM’s Maven flourishes?