It’s rather bold for the Chief Executive Officer of a major global automaker to invite consumers to “take back the streets” from the very thing that said automaker produces and sells, but that’s what Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett advocates in a recent Medium essay. He praises the accomplishments of company founder Henry Ford, billing the automobile as “the ultimate disruptor to human’s lives and our civic way of life” for its ability to enable humans to “travel great distances and to get around town like never before,” and in the very next breath, says this:
“Over time, as our towns and cities were designed around the automobile, roads overtook the community centers. Where people once gathered in the streets and town squares, there are now highways and multi-lane roads.”
The short version of Hackett’s vision for the future of transportation: we consumers need to get on board with new mobility disruptions like autonomous vehicles and the “sharing economy” to cut down on congestion, reduce pollution, and reclaim the streets “as bustling social hubs where neighbors and families [can] gather, vendors [can] sell their goods and children [can] play.” It’s a testament to Hackett’s genius that, throughout the entire ten-paragraph essay, he only uses the word “autonomous” once.
By putting so little emphasis on the buzzword du jour, Hackett is able to better stress the (hopeful) end result of the technology’s rollout: revamped urban centers that again put humans – not cars – at the center. Ford is steering toward this goal, he says, by “collaborating with cities, civic organizations, urban planners, technologists and designers around the world to develop new ways of moving people and goods.”
In other words, Ford is betting big on its ambitious “City of Tomorrow” concept.
It’s a rosy picture that the Ford CEO paints, and one which ought to send a pang of panic through the mind of anyone who professes to love cars. What room will there be for human drivers in such a structured, automated utopia? the car fan must ask. What will happen to horsepower? To handling performance? To the manual transmission?
We lovers of speed will just have to hope Ford’s President and CEO is being overly optimistic.