William Ford – executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company – became the first automotive industry executive to deliver a keynote at Mobile World Congress Monday evening. His message was that the automotive and wireless industries must collaborate in order to preserve the positive impacts connectivity is bringing to society while mitigating the even more serious negative impacts of wider vehicle ownership and use.
Ford also used the occasion to announce the arrival, in Europe, of Ford's revolutionary SYNC smartphone connectivity solution. SYNC is the automotive smartphone connectivity solution that kicked off a global race in the automotive industry to enable the safe use in cars of mobile phones. Smartphone connectivity has opened a popular alternative path to vehicle connectivity that has overshadowed the slower-to-develop embedded world of automotive telematics characterized by GM's OnStar and BMW's BMW Assist services.
Ford’s comments represented a stark contrast to the video montage that preceded his speech during which factoids were splashed on large screens touting the billions and trillions of global connections and the positive contributions to GDP made in developed and developing countries by wider connectivity. Ford noted that the spread of megacities around the globe and the widening ownership and use of vehicles has unleashed the power of mobility and enabled greater individual freedom. At the same time, though, this wider use and ownership of cars is threatening the free flow of goods and services putting pressure on governments to try to harness and control vehicle use.
Ford foresees the wider connection of cars and the use of vehicle data to facilitate a multi-modal transportation future intended to reduce overall vehicle usage. By enabling and encouraging the use of alternative means of transportation when and where appropriate governments and municipalities will preserve a driving environment where everything from emergency services to everyday goods and services can continue to be delivered conveniently to highly concentrated population centers.
The mildly alarmist message contrasted slightly with the overall tone of benign connectivity spreading around the world. The take-away was clearly that while automobiles have enabled people to be more mobile and more independent than ever before it is connectivity that will enable the car to continue to have a long-lasting and positive impact on society in a diversified transportation environment.