Voice: Ken Washington

Ken Washington

Ken Washington, Vice President, Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford Motor Company

Ken Washington talks about Ford’s mobility work and the company’s vision of enhancing the lives of customers.

I’m a newcomer to Ford, having joined in 2014. When I first got the call to consider this position, I started thinking about my relationship with my car. I realized how much things were changing. And it convinced me that I wanted to be inside the tent working to make change, not outside looking in.

I think of my job as providing the technical framework and foundation for the future of Ford Motor Company. We’re looking over the horizon at what mobility will mean in the years to come. When I use the term “mobility,” I’m using it broadly: How will people move? The word has been widely adopted by our industry. But quite frankly, I think a lot of people don’t yet have a rich understanding of what the possibilities truly hold.

Just imagine what the future might look like when each vehicle is a node on the Internet. Imagine what you can do when those vehicles are equipped with sensors that can detect the environment around them in real time and interact with other connected parts of our digital lives. Then imagine that you have similar connectivity in public transportation, such as buses and trains. Imagine how you could take all that and weave it together to offer people new ways to move, whether they are trying to get around in densely populated urban environments or rural villages. Imagine how all of this will enable communities to be more efficient, with much smaller carbon footprints.

Here at Ford, we’re working to tie together connected vehicles, new modes of vehicle ownership and use, cars that can navigate autonomously, and data that can be processed and analyzed to make transportation experiences much richer and much easier. That’s what we mean when we say “Smart Mobility.”

Of course, this isn’t going to happen tomorrow. But we are absolutely confident that this future is very real, transformative and incredibly exciting. Our vision at Ford is to change how the world moves – again. It’s what Henry Ford did a century ago. Now we believe we’re going to revolutionize the world once more, this time powered by a new digital economy.

Ford’s longstanding culture of innovation has enabled our mobility thinking; it’s a natural fit for us. We are absolutely a car and truck company, and we’ll continue to be so. But we also now think of ourselves as a technology company and a mobility company. If we’re going to be disrupted through new innovations – and these innovations are definitely happening – the best way is to disrupt ourselves.

Think of how different today’s cars are from those of a decade ago. In some ways, they are hardly recognizable, with more features, smaller engines, better fuel economy – plus they’re a lot more fun to drive. The same pace of transformation will continue to accelerate in the future. We’re looking at everything from how vehicles will be powered – electrification, fuel cells, natural gas – to the materials that go into the vehicles themselves.

Our new suite of Ford Smart Mobility experiments aims to gain insights into the many changes taking place so we can create transportation experiences that people will love. Some of the experiments won’t hit the mark. But we won’t know unless we try, which is why we’re exploring such diverse areas, both geographically and technically.

People often ask me which experiment is my favorite, and it’s hard to choose. I have many favorites, including on-demand driving in London, parking experiments in Atlanta and London, car swapping in Dearborn and car sharing in Bangalore. All of our experiments are aimed at improving lives and creating a better world, be it through improving access to health care, easing congestion on our roadways or reducing carbon emissions by sharing vehicles.

So why are we doing all this mobility work? We know consumer behavior is changing and so is the way individuals think of the automobile. More and more, people will share vehicles or order rides on demand or use multiple modes of public transportation. We want to position Ford as a mobility provider for future generations – as a company that has built consumer trust by anticipating and solving unmet needs. That means providing a full range of mobility services and being ready with great vehicles when and if our customers ask for them.

All the automakers are looking at mobility, connectivity and autonomous vehicles, but we think our strategy sets us apart. With Ford Smart Mobility we’re exploring the integration of mobility solutions, connectivity, autonomy and data analytics from a consumer experience perspective. We’re thinking of all the ways we can create more enjoyable mobility experiences for our customers. Others seem very focused on trying to be first to market with autonomous vehicles or specific mobility services, but our priority isn’t to get there first; it’s to serve our customers best. Our vision is to make the future of mobility available to the masses to enhance our customers’ lives.”