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Ford is doubling down on its car sharing experiment in London and other cities while offering up its patents to competitors -- what gives?

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Have You Shared A Ford (Patent)… Lately?

Ford is doubling down on its car sharing experiment in London and other cities while offering up its patents to competitors — what gives?

A trip to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit* earlier this year convinced us that the Ford Motor Company is a huge fan of carsharing, which might seem a little odd for a car manufacturer, since the whole point of carsharing is to buy fewer cars. However, when you combine Ford’s new London carsharing program with its new patent-sharing offer, something interesting begins to emerge.

Ford London car sharing experiment

The London Carsharing Experiment

Earlier this spring, Ford put out word on some early results of its London carsharing pilot project, and it seems that the results were promising enough to go forward with the beta version.

Called City Driving On-Demand, the initial program was designed to lure drivers from gasmobiles into electric vehicles, by offering one flat rate for both cars.

We had previously noted that rental fleets in the US tend to charge a premium for EVs, with disappointing results. The Ford approach, on the other hand, seems to work. In its first London carsharing experiment involving 100 participants, Ford found that many drivers took their first ride in a gasmobile, then switched to EVs. Of those who switched, virtually none chose a gasmobile again. (Editor’s Note: I wonder why.)

Last week, Ford announced that it is stepping up the carsharing program into a beta phase, now called GoDrive, with 50 cars and 20 locations that have been selected to dovetail with other transportation systems. The company is soliciting 2,000 early adopters to sign on.

The program reflects feedback from the initial launch, which indicated that — no surprise — users placed a priority on parking, one-way trips, and a simple price plan.

The GoDrive fleet is still balancing gasmobiles with EVs. On the gas side, it’s a superefficient Fiesta with Ford’s award-winning EcoBoost 1.0 liter engine. The EV is Ford’s Focus Electric.



 

It’s too early to see if the positive response to EVs continues along the strong trend noted in the first launch, so we’ll update you on that whenever Ford is ready with some stats.

Meanwhile, the company is moving ahead with the other personal “smart mobility” programs that it outlined back in January, all of which involve some form of shared transportation.

As for why Ford is pushing services that will help people not buy cars, the company seems to be banking that the city dweller of the future will not be inclined toward car ownership anyways, except perhaps in the luxury market.

With that in mind, take a look at Ford’s analysis of the future carsharing market:

With the global car-sharing industry expected to exceed $6 billion USD (£3.8 billion) by 2020*, Ford is introducing GoDrive to target on-demand use and gain insight on emerging mobility trends and customers’ car-sharing habits.

[snip]

It is estimated that in the U.K. alone the car-sharing sector will grow by 23 per cent from 2013 to 2025.** A recent Ford-commissioned survey of 5,500 commuters in major European cities found that a majority of people consider their journey to work more stressful than their actual jobs, and 80 per cent of Londoners said they are late for work once a month or more due to hold-ups.

What About That Ford Patent Offer?

Our sister site Gas2.org got it right last week when Ford announced that it was opening up several of its EV patents to competitors. While a number of other media outlets described it as a “free” program, take a look over at Gas2’s rundown and you’ll see that it’s a fairly standard license offer, apparently with the licensing fee to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The real takeaway is that Ford is embarking on a full-throttle push for electric vehicles.

Actually, the company has been prepping for this moment for several years. In 2012, it helped launch AutoHarvest, an auto-technology sharing platform that includes more than 250 R&D organizations covering private sector, government, and nonprofit organizations. AutoHarvest happens to have a partnering arrangement with the US Patent and Trademark Office (and, interestingly, the US Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense).

Here’s the AutoHarvest mission statement:

…AutoHarvest.org was launched as the world’s only truly neutral and global on-line meeting place for innovators of all types with an interest in advanced manufacturing intellectual property. This meeting place allows users of all types to showcase capabilities, technologies and needs system-wide and then privately connect with fellow inventors and commercializers to explore technology and business development opportunities of mutual interest.

[snip]

AutoHarvest also curates for members an Innovation Hub that provides access to “smart-tools” developed by third parties. Currently, 22 organizations provide access to software, databases, content and services tailored for the advanced manufacturing community.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at where Ford is looking for manufacturers to license its patents.

In its press release, Ford highlighted three areas. One deals with battery lifespan (patent number US5764027), another involves regenerative braking (US6275763), and the third involves an interface for driver feedback on accelerating and braking, with an aim toward improving fuel economy in gasmobiles as well as EVs (US8880290).

The emphasis is on electrified, urban driving, and that dovetails with GoDrive and Ford’s other smart mobility initiatives.

With the patent offer, Ford is making it clear that the future competition is not only among auto manufacturers. Just as importantly, it’s with carsharing services like Uber and other smartphone-enabled mobility services that help city dwellers get around without a car of their own.

Auto manufacturers who want to keep up will have to look at personal mobility as a range of actions that don’t necessarily include owning your own car.

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Image Credit (screenshot, cropped): Ford Motor Co.

*Readers please note: CleanTechnica’s visit to the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit was supported by Ford.


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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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