Detroit Auto Show Preview: Personal Mobility Is The New Black

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We’re heading off to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, and while we’re anticipating a slew of new electric vehicles and other four wheeled automotive must-haves, we’re also expecting to bring you news of a sea change in the industry. More than ever, auto manufacturers are expanding their operations beyond the factory floor and into new territory that embraces the interconnected personal mobility market.

Think of the way that traditional publishing companies have transformed from paper-dependent mail, delivery, and newsstand operations into Internet-enabled communications of all types, and you can get a hint of what’s in store for the auto industry.

Ford personal mobility innovation
Courtesy of Ford (image cropped).

Ford And Personal Mobility

Since Ford is making it possible for us to get to Detroit, we’re going to zero in on that company as  a good example of the trend.

Back in 2012, our sister site reported on a keynote speech by Ford Chairman Bill Ford, Jr.,  at the Mobile World Conference in Spain. Noting that the Earth is on track to support more than 14 billion human beings by 2050 (yes, double what we have today), Ford made a pitch for taking personal mobility beyond the physical automobile and into the connected world, embracing bicycles, pedestrians, and mass transit as well as traffic management strategies.

The Innovative Mobility Challenge

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the winners of the Ford Mobility Challenge, which is part of the “Smart Mobility” series that Ford rolled out at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.


The winning entries, selected from a pool of more than 400 submissions, take personal mobility to a level that closely tailors products to local circumstances and local issues. That’s pretty much the opposite of the conventional auto industry model, which aside from a few tweaks (ok, so a lot of tweaks) sells off the same four-wheels-and-a-running-board platform regardless of local environments.

You can get all the details on the winners from Ford at the Innovate Mobility website, but for those of you on the go here are a few samples of winning apps.

In terms of grappling with local conditions, you have the “Mumbai Monsoon Helper,” which incorporates crowd-sourced information into a comprehensive mobile app that can help travelers safely negotiate areas impacted by severe weather.

Another winner addressing India’s weather and disaster issues was “Flare,” an app designed to help volunteers muster more efficiently and get medical care to those in need more quickly.

At the other end of the pole is the “Crowd Park” app, developed to help ease parking issues in Los Angeles, and a similar “Parkopedia” app developed for Shanghai.

One app that we’re especially interested in is the “MultiModal Transportation — Commuter Smart Routing System,” which helps users coordinate trips that reduce emissions and save money on fuel. That includes ride-sharing among other options.

On the nuts and bolts side, the “Secondary Power Management System” caught our eye. Designed for commercial vehicles, it enables the vehicle to operate while charging refrigeration, communication, and other electrical equipment.

The last one we’ll mention is the Urban Shuttle, which incorporates electric shuttles (two different kinds, no less) into mass transit and private vehicles.

The next step for Ford is a mobility challenge specifically designed for Australia, which poses a unique set of challenges due to its wide open spaces and low population density.

Next Steps For Personal Mobility

Meanwhile, we’re wondering if the Maker movement and the auto industry are also going to come together in another emerging trend we’ve been tracking, in which auto manufacturing moves out of the large, centralized model and into smaller assembly shops that are keenly tuned in to local needs.

We can think of a couple of small personal mobility companies that are exploring that model — Organic Transit and Local Motors come to mind. If you can add some others to the list, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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