I’m wary when companies use vague or overly broad words to describe major initiatives, especially involving technology. And so it was with wariness but also curiosity that I approached a first-time meeting Wednesday with Jim Hackett, the new CEO of Ford. He’s also the former CEO of Steelcase and, in between those two posts, a Ford board member and head of the venerable automaker’s “smart mobility” unit.
What exactly, I wondered, does Ford mean by mobility, a vague and overly broad term that makes me think of cell phones but might also pertain to movement among the social classes or a rehab patient’s progress? It turns out, says Hackett, that Ford thinks of mobility as a “catch-all” phrase that encompasses all non-traditional businesses. In other words, anything that doesn’t involve popping an internal-combustion engine into a vehicle and selling it, is a potential mobility product.
Mobility is sexy, but it doesn’t account for much of Ford’s revenue. And although Hackett’s predecessor, Mark Fields, got the boot for not having a coherent strategy, Ford already has made a handful of non-traditional moves. It’s a partner in a popular bike sharing program. And it operates Chariot, a “micro-transit” shuttle service in several U.S. cities.
Hackett sees his mission as positioning Ford for the day when most people live in cities and may or may not need their own car. He’s currently drafting a 100-day plan for Ford he plans to unveil in October. In the meantime, he says the company will consider a “smorgasbord” of options that involve moving people around. He hinted, for example, that Ford is looking closely at a “metered parking” business (a la startup SpotHero) and various “curb management” schemes.
Everything is on the table, he says, including ride-hailing, though he professes to be uninterested in owning a piece of Uber or Lyft. Right now Ford supplies those companies’ drivers, notes Hackett. If Ford were to own the service, “they’ll want a discount, and I don’t want to destroy our margins.”
Not destroying margins in the challenged car business is neither a vague nor overly broad goal, provided a detailed strategy follows.
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