Sometimes we take for granted how much the automobile is actually responsible for. Simply things like getting us to work or dropping off our kids at grandma’s or making another grocery run. We do this everyday, getting in and out of the car almost subconsciously over and over again.
Then there is the transport industry. Whatever you’re doing right now, that delicious craft beer your drinking or new 4K TV you’re watching. Maybe you are about to nosh on some delivery, or better yet, lasagna made by you—from scratch.
All of these things and products were at one point on a truck, being transported from place to place to end up at a store, which in turn was then transported by you in your vehicle to your house.
This is basic stuff, we all know this, but it is just a fleeting thought for most. And that’s interesting because the transportation industry is on the cusp of the biggest changes it has seen in a hundred years.
It’s difficult to talk about transportation and cars and transit these days without out talking about autonomous tech. Self-driving cars and EVs have gone viral, but so far only in the media. Many tuned in recently to Elon Musk launching his roadster into space. A triumph indeed for the Space X program and Falcon Heavy, but a bit unrelated to EVs back on earth. It was great marketing though—for Tesla.
In reality the take rate for EVs have been quite poor, in spite of the government’s efforts in offering some generous rebates to anyone that wants to buy one.
The general public is telling us, plain and simple, that they still want regular combustion powered vehicles.
“There are going to be rapid changes in our industry, but for the foreseeable future, there is gonna be still a big market for cars, trucks and SUVs. So we’re really excited about the products that we offer today and the products that we will offer with all this great new driverless technology,” said Mark Buzzell, President and CEO of Ford Canada.
Recently at the Canadian International Auto Show, Wheels.ca had the opportunity to sit down with Mark and talk a bit about what someone in his position thinks the near future will bring.
And it seems to boil down to what the customer wants, and it’s a general shift from sedans to SUVs and mini SUVs. I personally like to think of them as tall cars.
“I think one of the things I’m really excited about is our SUV nameplates,” said Mark. “We continue to see here in Canada more and more customers migrate from cars to SUVs. That’s playing into a real area of strength for us.”
It seems many manufacturers are trying to get that top SUV spot and Ford has done exceedingly well with their Escape, being the domestic leader in its segment and constantly nipping at the heels of Honda and Toyota.
It doesn’t seem like they are stopping there, with the popular Ford Edge getting the muscular ST treatment. Mark tells us “It’s not a poseur. It’s legitimately a performance vehicle.” We will have to wait until later this year to put that statement to the test.
More exciting to me is the re-launch of the Ranger here in North America a nameplate not sold on this continent since 2011.
This pick up truck along with its Mazda B series cousin was immensely popular and well know for its durability and ruggedness. Its smaller size and weight a boon to anyone not wanting to tool around in a full size truck like the F-150.
Then there’s the new EcoSport mini SUV, and the newly redesigned Expedition and Navigator aimed squarely at the Yukon and Escalade. GM has long enjoyed success with those models. “We haven’t led in the large SUV market, so now with Expedition and Navigator we think we’ve got an opportunity to capture new owners again,” stated Mark.
But Ford knows that a change is on the horizon and it’s hard to really say when autonomous tech will become mainstream but sometimes change seems to happen overnight.
It’s easy to speculate, but investing in the future and gathering the tools that will help you better understand the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and what is required to have a driverless future seems to be the best approach.
This is something that I’m happy to see embraced by Ford.
“We’ve just acquired Argo AI and Autonomic, which is company based out of Palo Alto, which has 25 employees based out of Toronto,” Mark tells me proudly. “With the help of Autonomic we’re going to create a transportation mobility cloud and by the year 2019, it will be the largest cloud globally for transportation.”
If this cloud stuff seems a bit confusing, it’s basically just a way for cars to communicate with other cars, existing infrastructure and other services and even transit. It’s not something we think about but for driverless cars to work this is crucial stuff. Best of all, the platform is open-source and anyone including other automakers can essentially contribute and help improve it.
Really that’s what it is going to take. A collaboration between automakers, services and businesses to make this happen.
Ford has already gone on record saying they will have something fully autonomous by 2021. It will be a commercial application but that’s just a few years away.
It’s humbling in a way how massive a task the driverless future really is, but I think Ford is on the right path.
“We do have a vision to provide smart vehicles for a smart world,”says Mark, but we know we can’t go into this alone. We’re a company that’s trying to be innovative but willing to partner with people who have the expertise. I’m really excited about the spirit of innovation and the culture of innovation, to take chances and try new things.”
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