Among the 25 "global mobility experiments" Ford announced this year at CES was a ride-sharing service the automaker is testing with its employees in Dearborn. But the plans aren't just limited to an app. Ford is contemplating making a dedicated vehicle for the program.
It's what most of us would call a "van", but Ford is trying to figure out exactly what something purpose-built for hauling people at a moment's notice would entail.
Ford's calling it a "dynamic social shuttle", and at this point it's more of an R&D project than a product, but it's something the automaker is seriously looking at.
"There is a white space for a new product," John Abernethy, Ford's project lead for the Advanced Product Group in the UK, told the Washington Post. "Between a taxi and a bus is a space for something else."
Obviously, unlike Uber, Lyft, or any other ride-sharing service, Ford actually builds cars. By developing its own app and using a dedicated vehicle, Ford could be the vertically integrated "mobility provider" it's been promising for years.
But Ford isn't being clear about its plans. It says a pilot project could roll out in in London later this year, and possibly New York City, but doesn't explain how the service would work.
Given the amount of passenger space of what's likely to be a modified Transit, Ford could make a play at offering something similar to UberPool, where a few riders on a similar route would share the cost.
To hear the WaPo describe it, that's exactly what Ford is considering:
In the company's vision, passengers would request a ride through the app in much the same way you can with Uber or Lyft. A kind of "premium mini-bus" would then arrive on demand and take you to your destination, collecting and dropping off other passengers along the way with similar routes. The underlying idea is essentially Uber-squared: It requires a sophisticated system to not only match passengers to nearby vehicles, but to match passengers to each other so that an entire chained trip becomes as efficient — and tolerant to passengers — as possible.
That's hardly revolutionary, more of a glorified airport bus or the mini-shuttles that have been popular in developing nations for decades. But it could be a plus in rural areas that haven't been well served by other ride-sharing services.
For now, however, it's all academic. Ford is exploring ideas and flinging stuff against the wall. That's either a sign that it's serious about evolving or desperately trying to come up with something tangible as the automotive business model shifts.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.