Here’s Why Ford Is All Over Ride Sharing

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When an auto manufacturer recasts itself as a personal mobility services company, it can find itself on some risky turf. Ford, for example, has a couple of ride sharing experiments under way, and some people are wondering if they haven’t gone bonkers — after all, why would an auto manufacturer encourage more people to buy fewer cars?

On the other hand, the auto market of the future is going to be huge, with the Earth’s population projected to double from 7 billion to 14 billion [update: or around 9.6 billion]* by 2050. That means there are plenty of sub-markets ripe for the picking, and Ford has good reason to expect that in the urban market, future mobility customers are going to be primed and ready to share.

We’re already familiar with the sharing concept through companies like Uber, but we’re beginning to see the downside of a model that rests on a foundation of exploitable franchisees. Ford is coming from a different angle, and we’re guessing part of that has to do with its experience in shuttling people around its main campus in Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford Transit Connect ride sharing
Fort Transit Connect wagon (screenshot, courtesy of Ford).

Why Ford Is Optimistic About Ride Sharing

The Ford ride sharing model that we’re particularly interested in is called the Dynamic Social Shuttle. A smartphone enabled, point-to-point, on-demand premium ride service, the Social Shuttle is part of the company’s Smart Mobility experiments announced last week. When we first took a look at it we thought it was a nifty idea, but we were wondering what kind of futurecasting was encouraging Ford to look in that direction.

That’s because in order for the Social Shuttle to work as intended (and be profitable for the vendor), it depends on passengers communicating and collaborating on routes and scheduling.

Ford’s presentations at the Auto Show yesterday made a pretty good case for that happening.


According to Ford’s take, for previous generations getting your first car was a rite of passage, the key to freedom and adulthood. Today’s up-and-coming generation is more disconnected from that experience, therefore more likely to share.

We’ll add our own take to that. If anything, your first smartphone is going to be the biggest deal in your life up to that time, and unblocked Internet access (and an unlimited text plan) is your rite of passage into social freedom. You’d much sooner share a ride than your smartphone, right?

We’re not a huge fan of generation labels but let’s note for the record that this is all about “Generation Z.” That would be the 2 billion people under age 21 today, many of whom are not even in their late teens yet, but soon they will be and they will be buying — or at least using — cars.

Ford reads Generation Z as “independent, impatient, entrepreneurial, extremely environmentally aware, and more likely to want to have an impact on the world.” They also send and receive an average of 110 texts daily, and they are immersed in social media, online learning, and online collaboration.

Ford showcased three entrepreneurs who reinforced the company’s sense that collaborative mobility will continue to trend upwards. Emily White, founder and COO of SnapChat, made the case for a new generation of collaborative-savvy consumers in the “Our Stories” format that the company has developed.

The co-founder and CEO of DigiTour Media, Meredith Valiando-Rojas, similarly described a constituency of young people who recognize that forming collaborative, supportive online communities can lead to shared experiences in real life.

Smartwatch developer and beekeeper (yes, the two are related) Davis Barrow emphasized how the preteen generation is growing up in a connected environment that is socially enriched by technology rather than isolated by it (not for nothing but we never believed in that isolation thing, either — after all, it’s just as easy to isolate yourself without technology).

 Why Ford Is Really Optimistic About Ride Sharing

Before we get to the Dearborn campus, let’s also consider Ford’s own experience with collaboration. Inter-company collaboration is nothing new, for example look how long the standard USB connection has been around. Now ratchet that up a notch or to and you get crowdsourcing, open sourcing, and all kinds of other collaboration on technology and software emerging at the global inter-corporate level.

Ford is part of that trend and at the auto show, the company described how it open-sourced its AppLink platform to foster the development of an industry standard (for those of you keeping score at home that’s the GENIVI Alliance Smart Device Link or SDL).

That brings us to the Dearborn campus shuttle. Just a few months ago, Ford announced that it was dropping its Ford E-350 vans in favor of its Transit vans and Transit Connect Wagons.

The basic ides is to save money on fuel by tailoring the size of the van more closely to the number of riders, and it also indicates why Ford is interested in a Social Shuttle model that accommodates a limited number of passengers per trip rather than using larger vans or buses: the Dearborn shuttle makes numerous runs with only one or two passengers.

On the other hand, in 2014 alone the Dearborn shuttle fleet racked up approximately 500,000 miles, which indicates the potential for enormous demand in other contexts.

It’s also worth noting that the smaller vehicles are much more easily maneuverable in an urban environment, and Ford is looking specifically at megacities as a growing market for its new mobility products.

In case you missed the obvious, yes it’s nothing new for an auto manufacturer to foster ride sharing by manufacturing passenger vans and buses (mass transit, much?). What’s new is the degree to which Ford is directly involved in shaping a new model for urban ride sharing.

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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.

Tina Casey has 3146 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

17 thoughts on “Here’s Why Ford Is All Over Ride Sharing

  • This is a very interesting development. I sometimes cannot believe how quickly and steadily this new auto revolution is happening. I’d love to see legislation passed in the future banning certain cars(or the amount) in urban cores to reduce traffic congestion.

  • This millennials friendly pitch sounds like the premise for a forthcoming movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2.” Detroit has the worst public transportation in the country and a messy mess of a suburban sprawl. Oh, sorry it’s ranked 134th out of 290 cities in the US, but dead last out of metro areas over 2 million people. And these guys are selling us transportation solutions? Via Tina that is.

    • Let’s see, we’ve got Detroit with the worst public transportation in the country and a messy mess of a suburban sprawl. What sort of a solution might we come up with?

      Light rail, extended subway system, electric bus fleet? Oops, Detroit is broke.

      How about taking something Ford is already doing and improve it so that it’s more cost efficient?

      • Do I always have to do your research, Bob. You’re suppose to be the comments section expert here on Cleantechnica. Detroit the city is broke. The outer sprawl is doing pretty good. Thanks, in part, to the bailout. Which Chicago and other Midwestern cities benefitted from as well.

        Suburban Detroiters circle around the city. It doesn’t have a hub and spoke like mass transit system like Chicago, San Fran, NYC etc. Its problem and its solution isn’t necessarily transferable. Ride sharing may be the ticket. Or not. The main metric for clean technology is carbon emissions reduction. If ridesharing does that, I’ll become a big fan.

        • That’s a mighty big twist you’ve got in your bloomers, Michael.

          • /sarcasm. I enjoy our discussions. Frankly, it gets the blood flowing faster than morning coffee.

            Here’s what matters:


            Atmospheric CO2 keeps going up and up. NOAA has a great website, btw.

            Intersquad sparring amongst environmentalists is essential, whether a solution is technical or political. We don’t have time to get swooped up in latest trends. Especially geoengineering, i.e. transferring CO2 from the atmosphere to the ocean, a common fall back option based on nothing but salesmanship.

          • I’m very aware that CO2 levels continue to rise. And I’m very aware what that means.

            I’m also aware that CO2 emission levels peaked in the 1990s in Europe and in 2005 in the US. I’m also aware that China is working hard to stop the rise in their CO2 emissions and are showing some progress. And that India is just started a major renewable acceleration.

            I’m neither “over worried” or “not worried” about CO2. It looks to me that we’re on track to hitting peak CO2 before 2030, probably before 2025, and then accelerating toward a mostly fossil fuel energy system by 2050.

          • Getting people out of cars is the only option, if climate change is a problem. Especially with $2.00 a gallon gasoline. This is the problem with technical solutions only argument. To answer Tina’s question in the heading, Ford is looking into ridesharing since the bulk of US consumers can’t afford its new efficient cars. The technical solution.

            Leaving oil, gas and coal in the ground is the only solution. Not slow substitution with technologies. I realize there needs to be optimism in a sales pitch, “a shoeshine and a smile.” But, the sole driver for all this technology is a sense of urgency. We don’t have to mid century.


            From climate scientists recently on time is running out:


            Apparently, they don’t read Tina’s work here on cleantechnica. That’s a joke.

          • I’m hoping that ‘mostly fossil fuel energy system’ was a mistyping of ‘mostly renewable energy system’.

          • Yep. That’s a major “Oops”.

            Thanks, correcting.

  • After dealing with other people at work all day, the absolute last thing I want to do is share a car with strangers. At least on public transit there is a social convention with earbuds/headphones, but that probably breaks down in a shared car.

    Ford – make ’em electric, self-driving, self-charging and hailable/schedulable via smartphone.

    • Having been on mass transit and car/van-pooling I think courtesy is much better in vans because you are less anonymous.

      Also, the number of “crazies” is noticeably less.

      Though I agree with your last line.

  • Tina, no one is predicting a 14 billion population by 2050. Predictions range between 8.3 and 9.7 billion people.

    • You are right but 14B was widely quoted in the popular press by other journalists who don’t know statistics, in particular the concept of “variance”. It has taken on a life of its own. I’ve heard other people (who should know better) quote it as if we were heading for a “Mad Max” world – which prospect I think they relish as retribution for our ecological sins – not saying Tina falls in that category – just that it’s a wide-spread trope. “The Economist” explains here:

      • Retribution for our sins might be part of the motivation for using the most extreme version. It’s possible that some are using the extreme in an attempt to motivate others to take some action.

        • bad idea – risks losing credibility and once you’ve lost that, you can’t regain it.

          • I agree. Those who go overboard probably do more harm than good. They give ammo to the deniers that allows them to talk about the “wacko greenies”.

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