Profile: Bill Ford

Profile: Bill Ford

Sustainability is the biggest issue facing global business in the 21st century, according to Bill Ford. While breakthroughs like improved battery technology will likely provide a solution to the CO2 challenge, another issue – Global Gridlock – is quietly taking its place. So says the grandson of Henry Ford who is chairman of Ford Motor Company.

Why the world faces a massive traffic jam

By Bill Ford, Special to CNN

June 26, 2011 

 Sustainability is the biggest issue facing global business in the 21st century. While breakthroughs like improved battery technology will likely provide a solution to the CO2 challenge, another issue — “Global Gridlock” — is quietly taking its place.

Global gridlock can be defined by numbers. The world’s population is growing and is becoming more affluent. There are approximately 6.8 billion people in the world today. Within our lifetime, that number will approach 9 billion. Today, there are about 800 million vehicles on the road worldwide, but by mid-century that number could grow to between 2 and 4 billion.

If we continue to follow the personal mobility model that is now in place, the world’s roads are going to become too crowded. Commutes will become longer; traffic jams will become larger and more ubiquitous. Economic opportunity will be stifled. More time and resources will be squandered while people try to get from point A to point B. This all threatens the promises of both physical and social mobility, which in turn lessens opportunities to improve the world’s standards of living.

There’s no single answer to this new threat to our mobility, and it isn’t going to be solved by one person or group. It’s going to take corporations, entrepreneurs, NGOs, universities, governments and other interested parties all working together to build a global, interconnected system of transportation and mobility solutions. Smart businesses, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will see this as a tremendous opportunity and a job creator.

Ford: A future beyond traffic gridlock If we continue to follow the personal mobility model that is now in place, the world’s roads are going to become too crowded.

We need to develop better mass transit systems and strive to find new forms of individual mobility. Cars will continue to evolve, but they will need to work in harmony with other cars, city infrastructure and other forms of transportation.

We need smart cars and smart infrastructure that communicate with each other while using real-time data to maximize their efficiency. We also need to tie in innovative and unique solutions that in their own way address global gridlock. Some of these solutions already are already being developed.

Masdar City is a carbon-neutral city in Abu Dhabi, being built from the ground up, where no internal combustion vehicles will be used within the city limits. People will get around on foot or bike above ground or with driverless pods beneath the city.

In Manhattan, 34th Street traffic will be managed better through dedicated bus lanes, private automobile restrictions, and optimally timed traffic lights. In cities across the United States, smart parking is already being enabled by phone applications that can alert drivers to parking spots — and even reserve them in advance. This will work to eliminate one of the largest contributors to inner-city gridlock: drivers trolling around for parking.

At Ford, we are rapidly expanding our commitment to intelligent cars that can wirelessly talk to each other to help make driving safer, more efficient and more enjoyable. We’re doubling our intelligent vehicle investment in 2011, and we’ve initiated a new 20-member task force of scientists and engineers to explore the technology’s broader possibilities.

Other automakers also are investing in related technologies. The goal is for all intelligent vehicles, one day, to be able to talk to each other, no matter what name is on the grille.

Just as we all embraced the green energy challenge, we must now start attacking global gridlock with the same passion. We are starting to make progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Bill Ford is a car guy — his great-grandfather was Henry Ford, and he grew up inside the massive Ford Motor Co. So when he worries about cars’ impact on the environment, and about our growing global gridlock problem, it’s worth a listen. His vision for the future of mobility includes “smart roads,” even smarter public transport and going green like never before.

William Clay Ford Jr. is the executive chair of the Ford Motor Company, founded by his great-grandfather, Henry Ford, in Detroit. This massive company found great success selling cars to the world. Now, Ford is looking toward a future that’s not simply about selling more and more cars. Ford looks to a future where cars are greener and cleaner, move more efficiently on better, smarter road systems — and sometimes are replaced by mass transit and other forms of mobility.

Ford joined Ford Motor Company in 1979 as a product planning analyst.  He subsequently held a variety of positions in manufacturing, sales, marketing, product development and finance.  During the breakthrough 1982 Ford-United Auto Workers labor talks, which launched the employee involvement movement that revolutionized the industry, he served on the company’s National Bargaining Team.

Mr. Ford joined the Board of Directors in 1988 and has been its chairman since January 1999.  He serves as chairman of the board’s Finance Committee and as a member of the Sustainability Committee.  He also served as chief executive officer of the company from October 2001 to September 2006, when he was named executive chairman.

As CEO, Mr. Ford improved quality, lowered costs and delivered exciting new products.  During his time in that position he took the company from a $5.5 billion loss in 2001 to three straight years of profitability.  Through the years, his vision for the company has remained unchanged.

He says: “The ongoing success of Ford Motor Company is my life’s work. We want to have an even greater impact in our next 100 years than we did in our first 100.”


FORTUNE — For more than 30 years, Bill Ford, 54, has pushed his company and the auto industry to be more environmentally friendly. Soon after the great-grandson of Henry Ford first went to work in 1979, he was asked by Ford’s CEO to stop making nice with environmentalists because it was causing too much trouble. (Later Bill Ford got heat from the environmental community, especially in the 1990s, for building gas-guzzling SUVs.) Now the company’s executive chairman, Ford is seeing his efforts to make his company greener come to fruition this year with the global launch of a new series of battery-powered vehicles, including the all-electric Ford Focus. In this article Ford writes about the future of the electric car, the need for a more comprehensive U.S. energy policy, and how a network of cars connected by Wi-Fi technology will revolutionize the way we drive and even the way our cities are designed. –Brian Dumaine


Leave a Reply