Bill Ford on The Future of Mobility

By Amanda Lewan on June 3rd, 2015 / Comments

Detroit was built on the powerhouse of the auto industry. But when it comes to technology and innovation, we’re often compared to Silicon Valley where Uber, Tesla and other new startups are disrupting traditional business models.

From Silicon Valley’s perspective, ride-sharing is one of the largest economic opportunities right now in front of us. With Uber creating 50,000 jobs around the world a month, it is quite the phenomena that cannot be ignored.  Is Detroit missing out on this?

Bill Ford Jr took the stage last week at the Mackinac Policy Conference to share his insights into the future of mobility. Ford stand was that ideas can come from anywhere, including Silicon Valley, but the products can be made faster here in Michigan.

“As I spent all of these trips to the valley the last ten years, I realized that there’s a lot we can learn from them and there’s a lot they can learn from us,” he said. “We know how to make things that last here. The ideas don’t have to be generated here, but ultimately we can be the place that brings ideas to life.”

Bill Ford himself shared more about his personal journey. Growing up into the auto industry he was always told it was great, that the industry created jobs for the world. But when Ford learned there were environmental concerns he didn’t shy away. He embraced the challenge to build a better car.

“No one was acknowledging that there is a portion of society moving away from us,” he said. So, he took action to help ensure the conversation changed at the corporate level. Ford used this parallel to explain the trends in mobility today.

“Just like we needed to solve environmental issues, if we don’t start to solve our mobility issues then we’re going to be in trouble,” he said.

So where does he see the future of mobility heading? He cited several trends including ride-sharing, a focus on solving urban transportation issues, and autonomous vehicles. Though he didn’t cite specific projects the corporation is working on, he sounded very optimistic.

The city he said is where most of the innovation will occur.

“In the city it will look very different today. But outside of cities we don’t think it will change much,” Ford predicted. “If you’re uptown and want to go downtown. You might be able to take a subway, to walk, take a bicycle, take a bus, but all of those forms need to talk to each other.”

How is Michigan positioned to capitalize on this opportunity? Ford believed that we’re heading in the right direction. We have universities with a history of working with corporations, more engineers than any other state, and a history of entrepreneurship that Ford thinks will be sparked again.

“For the State of Michigan I look at the founding of Ford up to the point of the Great Depression, the capital, the entrepreneurship was unprecedented. I think we’re about to enter that same phase again. Where we’re going to have tremendous innovation,” he said.

*This interview is from our week at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Blogger Zone at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Follow along tweets and stories with the hashtag #MPC15, and let us know questions or conversations you’re interested in most.


About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.