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Ford’s self-driving cars to launch ‘at scale’

Miami Mayor Carlos A. Giménez announces collaboration with Ford Motor Company to test its self-driving vehicle business model on the streets of Miami and Miami Beach.

Ford seems determined to meet its 2021 deadline to launch a service in the United States using its self-driving cars. This won’t be a small test operation in a single city, it wants to launch and operate its own service “at scale,” with all the necessary components in place to ensure it’s both efficient and profitable.

Ford’s Jim Farley recently told the Financial Times in an interview that the automaker’s self-driving car network will be running “at scale” in 2021.

Farley also emphasised that this would be a truly Ford-run service. While Ford does have self-driving car partnerships with companies like Lyft, it intends to “own the fleet” for its own services. That’s somewhat similar to Renault-Nissan, but a sharp contrast with Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and others focused on selling vehicles to outside services.

The company’s own efforts are focused more on delivery than on passengers. However, it’s not entirely surprising that the company would push for a large, in-house driverless network.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, said that his company is developing its very first “autonomous vehicle operations terminal” to maintain and securely house its vehicles.

The site, located a short distance from downtown Miami, is set to include facilities to wash the vehicles, including their all-important sensors, with routine maintenance also carried out.

To help drive its autonomous-vehicle ambitions, Ford last year invested US$1 billion in artificial intelligence company, Argo A.I.

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Alibaba and Ford unveil car vending machine

Source: Alibaba

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and US car maker Ford have unveiled an unstaffed car vending machine in China’s southern city Guangzhou.

The machine stands about five-storeys tall and contains 42 cars, of various models, including the Ford Explorer SUV and Mustang.

The “Super Test-Drive Center” is an unstaffed, digital vending machine that works with the Tmall app. Users select the car model they’re interested in, put down a deposit electronically, schedule a pickup time, and snap a selfie so the vending machine can recognise them when they pick up the car for a test drive. The test drives are free, as long as customers have a very respectable credit score of 700 or above.

The vending machine will be open to the public from Monday to April 23. Buyers will be given a 3-day test drive before they have to commit to any purchase. Similar machines are being planned in Beijing and Hangzhou.

“Sign up is completely mobile on the Tmall or Taobao mobile APP,” said Gu Wanguo, general manager of vehicles at Tmall Auto.

“Once a Ford vehicle is chosen, consumers snap a selfie to ensure they are only person who can take the car, put down a deposit electronically, and schedule a pickup time, all from within the app,” he added. At Guangzhou’s machine, buyers can also take out one other car if they are not satisfied with their selections.

Ford and Alibaba signed a three-year collaboration partnership last December, allowing the US car maker various new retail opportunities, from pre-sales, test drives and leasing options, through Tmall.

The e-commerce giant is no stranger to selling cars online and via mobile apps. In 2016, Maserati sold 100 cars in 18 seconds during a flash sale on Tmall.

Online car-buying has been gaining traction in recent years, with electric carmaker Tesla pioneering direct sales straight from the internet. 

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Ford to electrify more SUVs

Ford is strengthening its position in the electric vehicle sphere.

Ford plans to build a hybrid version of five SUVs it sells by 2020, promises Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, and produce six battery-electric vehicles by 2022.

By 2020, Ford estimates SUV sales could account for 50 percent of U.S. industry retail sales – one reason Ford is reallocating $7 billion in capital from cars to SUVs.

By 2020, Ford plans an industry-leading lineup of eight SUVs – five of which will offer hybrid powertrains and one battery electric. Ford SUV sales are estimated to grow 20 percent – more than double the industry rate – to more than 950,000 by 2020, according to LMC Automotive, and surpass 1 million by 2021.

Ford also acknowledges that battery EVs represent more than a different powertrain – they represent a lifestyle change for consumers.

That is why Ford’s strategy includes rethinking the ownership experience so it is more seamless than with today’s gas-powered vehicles. That means making charging an effortless experience at home and on the road as well as offering full-vehicle over-the-air software updates to enhance capability and features.

“Throwing a charger in the trunk of a vehicle and sending customers on their way isn’t enough to help promote the viability of electric vehicles,” said Sherif Marakby, vice president, Autonomous and Electric Vehicles.

“In addition to expanding our electric vehicle lineup, we are redesigning the ownership experience to ensure it addresses customer pain points that currently hold back broad adoption today.”

Ford’s new performance battery electric utility arrives in 2020. It is the first of six electric vehicles coming by 2022 as part of the company’s $11 billion global electric vehicle investment.

“Our passion for great vehicles is stronger than ever,” said Jim Hackett, Ford president and CEO. “This showroom transformation will thrill customers, drive profitable growth and further build toward our future of smart vehicles in a smart world.”

 

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Want to feel good? Drive a sports car

According to the latest study by Ford, driving a sports car on a daily basis is among the best ways to boost your sense of wellbeing and emotional fulfilment.

Working with neuroscientists and designers, Ford brought the research to life with the unique Ford Performance Buzz Car: a customised Ford Focus RS incorporating wearable and artificial intelligence technology to animate the driver’s emotions in real time across the car’s exterior.

“A roller coaster may be good for a quick thrill, but it’s not great for getting you to work every day,” said Dr Harry Witchel, Discipline Leader in Physiology. “This study shows how driving a performance car does much more than get you from A to B – it could be a valuable part of your daily wellbeing routine.”

Study participants who sat behind the wheel of a Ford Focus RS, Focus ST or Mustang experienced an average of 2.1 high-intensity buzz moments during a typical commute.

This compared with an average of 3 buzz moments while riding on a roller coaster, 1.7 while on a shopping trip, 1.5 each while watching a Game of Thrones episode or a football match, and none at all while salsa dancing, fine dining or sharing a passionate kiss.

“We think driving should be an enjoyable, emotional experience,” said Dr Marcel Mathissen, research scientist at Ford of Europe. “The driver-state research Ford and its partners are undertaking is helping to lead us towards safer roads and – importantly – healthier driving.”

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Ford increases EV investment

Ford’s head of global markets, Jim Farley has just announced ­that Ford Motor Co will invest US$11 billion in electric vehicles, a major increase on their previously announced US$4.5 billion.

Bill Ford.

The electric vehicles will include 24 hybrids and 16 fully electric vehicles by 2022. 

The increased investment reflects the costs of building a dedicated electric vehicle platform, and development of 40 electric and hybrid models, Jim Farley said.

“We’re all in on this and we’re taking our mainstream vehicles, our most iconic vehicles, and we’re electrifying them,” Bill Ford said to reporters.

Rival Detroit automaker General Motors Co has also announced plans to add twenty new battery electric and fuel cell vehicles to its global lineup by 2023.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra made a bold promise to investors that the Detroit automaker will make money selling electric cars by 2021.

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New Takata death

Ford Motor Co has just announced that it has confirmed a second death in an older pickup truck caused by a defective airbag inflator of Takata Corp and has urged 2,900 owners in North America to stop driving immediately until they can get replacement parts.

Ford recently confirmed in late December that a July 2017 crash death in West Virginia in a 2006 Ford Ranger was caused by a defective Takata inflator.

It previously reported a similar death in South Carolina that occurred in December 2015.

Ford said both Takata deaths occurred with inflators built on the same day installed in 2006 Ranger pickups. At least 21 deaths worldwide are linked to the Takata inflators that can rupture and send deadly metal fragments into the driver’s body. The faulty inflators have led to the largest automotive recall in history. The other 19 deaths have occurred in Honda Motor Co vehicles, most of which were in the United States.

The new recall announced on Thursday affects 2,900 vehicles. These include 2,700 in the United States and nearly 200 in Canada. The new recall will allow for identification of the 2,900 owners in the highest risk pool.

Japanese auto supplier Takata plans to sell its viable operations to Key Safety Systems, an affiliate of China’s Ningo Joyson Electric Corp, for $1.6 billion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged owners to heed Ford’s warning. “It is extremely important that all high-risk air bags are tracked down and replaced immediately,” NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana said.

Takata inflators can explode with excessive force, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks and have injured more than 200. The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June.

 

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Ford Ranger is Kiwi favourite

Ford Ranger is overall best-selling vehicle in 2017, the third year in a row, and best-selling ute for the fourth year in a row.

“It’s a fantastic result for the Ford Ranger – third year in a row as NZ’s overall best-selling vehicle. We’d first of all like to thank our customers for choosing Ford, our great dealer network and of course the engineers that built such a good truck,” said Simon Rutherford, Managing Director Ford New Zealand.

“The engineers certainly continue to get recipe right with the Ranger. Then again they’re from the same company that built the F-150 and that truck is going on its 43rd year at number one. Ford does know a thing or two about making great trucks.”

Customer insight
Ford New Zealand recently conducted a survey of NZ Ranger customers to understand more about why Ranger customers are huge advocates of the car. 

They love their Ford Ranger because it’s a great all-round ute with outstanding driving capability and towing capacity – being the best-seller wasn’t necessarily a factor.

“Being the number one ute certainly gets us excited but for customers it’s more about overall performance, capability and being the best ute for what their lifestyle entails,” said Jeremy Nash, Marketing Manager, Ford New Zealand.

“Overwhelmingly, Ranger drivers love the outdoors. Almost 75 per cent of Ranger customers cited fishing, boating, hunting and general outdoor adventures as among their favourite interests and the Ranger was the best match for those interests.”

The third most popular reason customers chose the Ranger was that it also suited their families, which made the 5 Star Safety rating an important requirement.

“If you took even a brief look around on our roads over Christmas, you would have seen countless ways the Ranger is out there supporting the Kiwi lifestyle – fishing, boating, family road trips, and every other outdoor adventure. That’s what has made the Ranger the Kiwi favourite,” added Nash.

 

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Fuel efficient SUVs on the horizon

‘Crack that code’: Ford CEO Jim Hackett, CEO promises fuel-efficient SUVs.

Jim Hackett, Ford Chief Executive, said on Thursday, that Ford wants to change its product strategy due to consumers now wanting SUVs that had better fuel efficiencies.  

The automaker is currently reviewing its vehicle portfolio and believes that there is a preference now for a sport utility vehicle that has fuel efficiencies similar to that of a sedan.

 At a recent Ford event in Detroit, Hackett said that in the past SUVs were not fuel efficient, but “we’re starting to crack that code”.

The automaker is conducting an annual review of its product portfolio against that backdrop, he said, but did not address specifics.

Ford also said on Thursday it would relocate its autonomous and electric vehicle units to Detroit from Dearborn, Michigan.

“The relocation brings together Ford teams that are creating new business models in a resurgent, diverse neighbourhood with industrial roots”, Ford said.

The team in Corktown will be led by Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification.

The company will begin testing its latest self-driving vehicle technology next year.

 

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Ford and Alibaba’s new partnership

While it is unconfirmed, there are talks that Ford Motor Co. will be selling cars to consumers in China through Alibaba’s online retail arm, Tmall.

Representatives of Ford and Alibaba, including Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and Ford CEO Jim Hackett, are expected to sign a letter of intent that outlines the scope of the partnership.

Jim Hackett, President and CEO, Ford Motor Company, outlines his plans for Ford to become the world’s most trusted mobility company earlier this week.

According to an unnamed source, the deal is intended to position Ford in the emerging Chinese marketplace where more cars will be sold online.

The partnership would be in line with the next phase of their China expansion strategy which was announced earlier this week, where Hackett shared his vision of a bigger presence in China.

Ford global chief spokesman Mark Truby said the company is expected to make an announcement on Thursday in Hangzhou, which is where Alibaba is based, but has declined to make a formal comment.

There is also talk about Ford utilising Tmall’s new retail concept called the “Automotive Vending Machine,” which entails a multi-story parking garage that partly resembles a giant vending machine, to sell directly consumers.

Those cars could come directly from Ford or from its dealers but the details are still to be worked out, the source added.

According to Alibaba, consumers can use their phones to browse through the cars stored in the vending machine and choose to either immediately buy one or test drive it. The vehicle would be delivered to them on the ground floor.

Ford believes dealers would likely agree to this direct retailing model because they still get to service cars sold through Tmall, the Ford source said.

The move could be potentially problematic for dealers, as the danger will be that they could lose out, not only on a lot of car sales, but also the lucrative auto financing aspect of their traditional business.

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Ford’s China expansion strategy

Ford has outlined the next phase of its China expansion strategy which revolves around SUVs, electric and connected vehicles and a new business model.

Photo shows (left to right): Jason Luo, Chairman and CEO, Ford China, Jim Hackett, CEO, Ford Motor Company, Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, Peter Fleet, Group Vice President and President, Ford Asia Pacific.

Executive Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett shared the vision yesterday while in China this week to meet with employees, customers, dealers and government officials.

“China is not only the largest car market in the world, it’s also at the heart of electric vehicle and SUV growth and the mobility movement,” said Bill Ford. “The progress we have achieved in China is just the start. We now have a chance to expand our presence in China and deliver even more for customers, our partners and society.”

Ford plans to expand its product portfolio by introducing more than 50 new vehicles by 2025. The fleet will include 8 all-new SUVs and at least 15 electrified vehicles from Ford and Lincoln. And a new Zotye-Ford JV venture will deliver a separate range of affordable all-electric vehicles under a new brand.

“From luxury Lincolns, to Ford cars and SUVs, to an all-new electric vehicle brand, we will meet the growing desire and need in China for great new energy vehicles,” said Jason Luo, chairman and CEO, Ford China. “Each of them will be safe, efficient, fun to drive and backed by an ecosystem that makes charging, sharing and servicing easy,” said Hackett.

Jim Hackett, President and CEO, Ford Motor Company, outlines his plans for Ford to become the world’s most trusted mobility company.

It was also announced that by the end of 2019, 100 percent of new Ford and Lincoln-badged vehicles in China will be connected through either embedded modems or plug-in devices. Company leaders also are working on broader infrastructure opportunities to improve future mobility experiences.

“We are responding to the rapid pace of change by delivering increased connectivity and working to improve and simplify mobility for everyone,” Hackett said. “This builds on our commitment to deliver smart vehicles for a smart world, helping people around the world move more safely, confidently and freely.”

“All of the actions outlined today reflect an unprecedented commitment to focus on the needs of consumers in China through a more fit and streamlined Ford,” he added. “They are proof of our dedication to grow our business in China.”

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Cancer care and self-driving cars

Mike Butler became fascinated by the process through which patients were treated after being diagnosed with cancer.

After being diagnosed with cancer Mike Butler, Ford’s quality director, saw an opportunity to introduce practices from the car manufacturing facility into the treatment process of cancer patients.

Butler and the team at the Ford assembly plant in Cologne, Germany researched and developed changes that are now being implemented as part of what is expected to become Germany’s biggest dedicated cancer outpatient unit.

Furthermore, this has since developed into a two-way flow of ideas. Hospital staff at the renowned Centre for Integrated Oncology (CIO) at the University of Cologne are using their big data techniques to help Ford explore future vehicles.

“I spent five years in treatment rooms and thought about how I could make life easier for patients,” said Butler, who is now in remission from colon cancer. “There was a real lightbulb moment when I realised that many of the systems that ensure car plants run smoothly could be applied to the hospital. Now there is an ideas exchange that is benefitting patients today, and could also help the way we move tomorrow. The more we work together the more synergies we find between our work at Ford and the challenges faced in cancer research.”

It all began in 2008 where Ford engineers met with medical staff to demonstrate the efficient practices and advance technologies that were being utilised at the Ford Fiesta Cologne plant, one of the world’s most competent vehicle production plants.

Designed to ensure treatment is less stressful and faster, coloured lines on walls and floors make it easier for staff, patients and visitors to find their way around.

Large screens will help make communication between key medical employees easier. The team also proposed flexible rooms with removable dividers rather than rigid wards and fixed nursing stations.

“Medicine is an ever-changing science where small changes have a huge impact on the lives of patients,” said Prof Dr Michael Hallek, the director of the CIO – that has been repeatedly honoured by German Cancer Aid as one of the top oncological centres in Germany. “With Ford’s help, we are making huge improvements that will benefit the lives and treatment of future patients for years to come. And hopefully, some of our methods of doing things will help Ford to develop what mobility might look like in the future.”

 

 

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