Q&A: Telematics, Ford and the future of mobility

Q&A: Telematics, Ford and the future of mobility

Paul Mascarenasloves cars inside and out. As CTO and vice president of Ford research and innovation, he geeks out about ‘big data’ and the future of connected-car technology. As a lifelong automotive guy (he joined Ford soon after graduating from university), he loves the feel of a responsive power train and the swoop of that "Ford DNA" styling. Mascarenas acts as a futurist within Ford Motor Company, working with a cross-disciplinary team to understand and respond to macro-economic and macro-societal trends.

What's exciting to you right now?

Cars still excite me—great designs and a great driving experience. I'm really excited about our small, turbocharged engines and the [C-MAX Energi] plug-in hybrid, and the driving experience you get.

Thinking about technology and what excites me, the next big one is the connected car. There's so much potential beyond using the radars and things onboard the vehicle. There is the limitation that they can only see what they can see. V2V [vehicle-to-vehicle] is something that will work over a half-mile range. You can use the nearby data to make a safer driving experience and use the further-out data to manage traffic and avoid congestion. (For more on V2V, see Industry insight: Telematics and V2V/V2X technologies; for more on connected cars, see Industry insight: The connected car.)

Are you hoping for a V2V mandate from the US government?

The technology clearly has got a lot of potential, safety and efficiency. I'd like to get through the two large pilots, in the United States and Europe, before deciding whether it should be mandated. All that work will be finished by the end of next year, and we may be able to see in the real world what's the most beneficial.

The piece that people often don't talk about is that, even if you mandated it, if you purely rely on new vehicles, V2V will take many years. I'm pushing hard for an aftermarket solution. I was just at SEMA talking to aftermarket manufacturers about a communication unit that could be retrofitted in car, with low-cost GPS and wifi, potentially incentivized through insurance discounts or other insurance benefits. That could get many more V2V-equipped vehicles on the road. (For more on insurance, see Industry insight: Insurance telematics.)

Would Ford manufacture these aftermarket solutions, brand someone else's or partner?

Partner; we don't envision a Ford-branded unit. I think the only way to realize the full potential of the technology is to do work in collaboration on developing standards, communication and messaging protocols. This is more of a call for action. You're doing your big wheels and spoilers; here's the next opportunity. Start working with us on the standards and get ahead of it.

Sync has gotten a lot of attention for its cool, connected features. Is Ford starting to market safety more heavily?

If you come back to the fundamentals of safety, fuel efficiency and technology, that's been the consistent messaging. With every new vehicle, we still strive to get the highest ratings in public domain ratings like NCAP. That's about crash worthiness, but it's not a differentiator. Everybody is really good now, which is great for everybody. Where we are starting to differentiate is in the areas driver assistance, ADAS. It's not the fact that we've got them; it's the way we're making them available on very affordably priced cars.

Look at the Ford Focus and all its features, and compare it with more expensive compact cars, such as the Audi A3 or the VW Golf and even some premium cars. We think it's compelling for our customers, and the real differentiator is making it affordable and available to millions of customers around the world.

Another thing that's exciting in my current position is having the opportunity to think even further forward into the future of mobility, beyond the personal ownership model we have today. There are some macro-societal and economic issues that we face. There are more people and more vehicles, urbanization and congestion. What does that mean for us as a transportation company? Maybe a different business model, such as our partnership with Zipcar, potentially integrating different forms of transportation and being able to offer a mobility service that's less vehicle-centric. (For more on new transportation trends, see Industry insight: Telematics, electric vehicles and the connected home.)

At some point, you have to sell something else besides cars?

In the global vehicle market today, it's clear to us that there's no one-size-fits-all, single solution. We're not placing a single big bet. We will work our way into a lot of different areas over time and focus on what our customers really need. If it's a vehicle, we'll focus on making a full line of vehicles. If it's mobility service, we'll look at ways we can provide that, whether through shared ownership or some other way of stitching together multimodal transport, for example, a car that brings you to the edge of the city, then you jump onto the metro.

In the near or midterm, in more developed areas, a personal vehicle is not an efficient way to move around the city. How does Ford as a company remain relevant in those markets and provide basic transportation and mobility services to customers and, at the same time, when they're out of city, give them access to a vehicle when they need it? These are interesting questions, and I'm going to say yes to almost everything.

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on connected cars, see Industry insight: The connected car.

For everything connectivity-related, visit Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2012 on December 4-5 in San Diego.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics Munich 2012on October 29-30 and Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2012 on November 13-14 in Atlanta.

Coming up in 2013: V2X for Auto Safety and Mobility Europe 2013 on February 19-20 in Frankfurt, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 8-9 in London and Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on June 5-7 in India.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *