Ford takes a peek at ‘Uber’ car ownership

Ford is fulfilling a pledge it made at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to become a major mobility provider by piloting several schemes including one that could make it an “Uber for car ownership”.

The service being piloted in London envisages future car ownership where owners can earn money from renting out their wheels when they are not in personal use.

New MD and chairman of Ford of Britain, Andy Barratt, told TU-Automotive that it is currently assessing a pilot scheme launched in this summer.

Ford Motor Credit announced the car-share pilot inviting 12,000 London customers to join the peer-to-peer scheme.

For screened and vetted car renters the scheme claims to offer a convenient, cost-effective way to rent a vehicle. It’s aimed at younger drivers who are used to car-sharing with companies such as Uber.

The company will work with easyCar Club on the six-month pilot where renters can search its website for a nearby car and book online. The keys are collected from the owner, or accessed from a safe, and members drop the car back to the same location.

Two other pilots being developed by the manufacturer include firstly, GoDrive a city driving on-demand where cars are unlocked through a smartphone app or membership card, and can be accessed 24/7. Pricing is per minute, with fuel, insurance and the city’s Congestion Charge included

The second still in the development stage is GoPark promising painless parking where a smartphone app service can assist drivers in finding a suitable parking space based on their profile preferences, the real-time parking situation in their target locale and their GPS location.

Barratt said: “GoDrive is a car sharing scheme that’s going really well and we will be rolling it out from London to other city hubs. The parking pilot is still at the testing stage on the technology and will take a little more time to assess.”

Reading between the lines, that probably means there is a logistical issue in negotiations with local authorities who would have to be involved in installing the necessary equipment transmitting when a parking bay is available. And, in the UK, local authorities are not known for their agility in these matters.

Barratt added: “The car sharing loaning scheme is also in the development stages. This is an interesting route because it’s very much a cultural route with Millennials.

“It could end up being a bit of an Uber for car ownership. Yet, with an automobile it’s one of the things you will have an emotional attachment to whereas you are unlikely to have that attachment to your washing machine except when it goes wrong.”

He said that emotional link with the car is not something that will die out anytime soon according to Ford’s recent customer research.

Barratt explained: “We did some research at the Frankfurt Motor Show on the Millennials and found that 60% of the people we spoke to were interested in buying a new car and a lot of them wanted an SUV. This is contrary to a lot of conjecture on Millennials as all being city-bound with a public transport network strong enough to meet their needs.

“But Millennials are now growing up and becoming more interested in owning their own vehicles.”

Barratt drew comparisons with mobile device ownership and the personal contract purchase (PCP) schemes, employed by carmakers, that are credited with stoking the passion for new car ownership among consumers in the UK and generating two years of booming car sales.

He said: “The point about their use of the mobile phone ownership plays into our PCP programmes because, on their mobile phones, they own the hardware at the end of the contract. But is they could get the contract slightly cheaper because they hand the hardware back, they would.

“So some mobile phone providers are now offering a split contract with hardware on one and the telephony on the other and you can upgrade at any point in time. So their ownership cycle is no different to our cars.”

However, Barratt did acknowledge that younger customers are much more likely to have a flexible attitude to car ownership especially if it comes with attractive incentives.

He explained: “Would they share the vehicle? I think they probably would and so something along these lines will come and it will be interesting us. It may develop that you have a finance contract with multiple people on it just like some sort of car-owning cooperative.”

“Nonetheless, there will always be a segment of the market that wants to own paying cash or using their own finance plans. And there’s no substitute for kerbside appeal… it’s got to look cool.”

Back in the here-and-now, no major car manufacturer executive could hope to escape some questions surround the recent Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal.

And Barratt agreed that technology has an important role to play in reassuring customers that their best interests are being protected.

He said: “As an industry there is now a job to do around inform, educate and trust. A lot of the technology in the car today is either emissions driven, safety driven or convenience driven with, sometimes a little enjoyment thrown in with either dynamic systems or infotainment.

“As manufacturers we have to explain to customers what this technology is doing for them. At Ford we have had a campaign running for the last two years around remarkable technologies. But what we have to communicate is the customer benefit.

“We could say ‘great I’ve got the technology but what does it do for me?’ This is unchartered waters for us and will play out in the course of time. When we talk to customers today, they are still taking delivery of diesel engine Ford engines and they are not quizzing us about the technology. Is that the same elsewhere? We don’t know.

“But I think customers’ tastes will change and technology will help to drive that as well. However, we can’t imagine life without diesel because if I’ve bought something on the internet how is that going to be delivered? Probably in a diesel van.  Nonetheless, with Ford petrol Ecoboost technology and being the second largest manufacturer of hybrids, I think we are well placed to match any change in consumer tastes and demand.”

Find out all about the latest industry developments at TU-Automotive Europe 2015 this November 2-3.

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