The world faces the threat of “global gridlock” as the number of cars surges from 1bn to a projected 4bn by 2050, Bill Ford, Ford Motor’s chairman and head of the US carmaker’s founding family, will warn on Monday.
Mr Ford will use a keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to outline the company’s proposal for a future of connected cars and intelligent transport systems, which he will argue is essential to avoid a future marred by crippling congestion.
“There is a new worry, and that is we could go to global gridlock as cars rise to 4bn by mid-century,” Mr Ford said in an interview ahead of his speech. “If we do nothing, the sheer number of people and cars in urban areas will mean global gridlock.”
As record numbers of people buy cars – especially in developing countries such as China and India – the concept of mobility pioneered by industry founders such as his great-grandfather Henry is under threat, Mr Ford will argue.
Ford’s “blueprint for mobility” will call for greater co-operation between rival carmakers, governments and mobile phone companies to create a transport network in which pedestrians, bicycles, cars and commercial and public transport are part of an interconnected system.
“Now is the time for all of us to be looking at vehicles on the road the same way we look at smart phones, laptops and tablets: as pieces of a much bigger, richer network,” Mr Ford told the Financial Times.
Mr Ford, who stepped down as the carmaker’s chief executive in 2006, has championed environmental issues in the past. His speech in Barcelona will signal the US carmaker’s intention to seize leadership in the field of urban, networked driving – a growing preoccupation across the car industry.
Ford and other carmakers are rushing to develop new products and services that capitalise on the possibilities opened by new telecommunications and cloud-computing technology, even as they sell more cars than ever in densely urbanised emerging markets.
Carmakers are worried that if they do not help to find solutions to ease congestion in “megacities” such as Beijing, Mumbai and São Paulo, their sales growth could slow or their products become obsolete.
Among Ford’s rivals, General Motors is developing the EN-V, an electric, self-piloting two-seat microvehicle that it showcased at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. GM is now developing a second generation of the experimental car for use in a new “Eco-City” near Tianjin.
Audi, the German premium car brand owned by Volkswagen, is also calling for greater co-operation between carmakers and other industries to address urban congestion. Among the ideas it is proposing is the roll-out of “intelligent” road surfaces capable of organising traffic more efficiently.
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