Ford's CEO says the future of cities has almost nothing to do with cars
In an interview with Business Insider, Fields discussed his company's vision for moving into urban planning projects within 15 or 20 years. One takeaway was clear: Ford is setting its sights on just about every mode of transportation out there.
"The transportation system that worked so well for us the last hundred years isn't going to cut it in its current form, particularly in urban areas," Fields said.
Cities pose an interesting challenge for automakers. Congestion is only getting worse. But as ride-sharing grows ever more popular and the rise of driverless cars looms, car companies may be solving the wrong problem if they try to merely get more vehicles on the road.
The real problem, it seems, is how to prepare for a future in which people prefer to get around using all different modes of transportation: driverless cars, ride-sharing, train, bus, bicycle, and on foot.
Ford has tried to turn its attention toward that second problem, according to Fields.
"The approach has always been, from a city-planning standpoint, how many cars can you get through the area?" he said. "If we turn that on its head, and ask how do we maximize people getting through the areas, it makes you think very differently."
In addition to its extensive plans to create commercially-available autonomous vehicles by 2021, Ford's main focus in cities has been to increase its involvement with ride-sharing and bikes.
In March of 2016, the company created Ford Smart Mobility, a subsidiary focused on creating, growing, and investing in new transportation services. One of the first ventures was buying Chariot, a San Francisco-based shuttle service. Around the same time, it partnered with bike-sharing company Motivate to launch its own bike-share service by the end of 2017.
The incentive isn't just greater convenience for city residents. Fields says he's met with dozens of mayors from all around the world, many of whom complain that local businesses would do better if people didn't have to deal with heavy traffic.
Further into the future, Fields imagines the company working to make different mode of transportation talk to one another. Cars could send information to other cars, street lights to other street lights, and people would naturally enjoy less congestion because there'd be more of a central command.
"We're trying to think about this holistically for cities," he said, "not just, how do I carve out a little piece of business for ourselves?"