When Ford Motor Company announced its Smart Mobility Plan at CES this past year, company executives emphasized that its 25 experiments were just that. Not all of them were intended to reach commercial viability. "Each experiment is different and luckily [Ford CEO] Mark [Fields] is giving us the ability to experiment and fail fast," Erica Klampfl, Ford's global future mobility manager, said at a press event in April.
But one of those experiments, City Driving On-Demand, has birthed a real social mobility service. Called GoDrive, it's an on-demand, app-based car-sharing service. Ford launched it in London on Tuesday with a fleet of 50 vehicles that can be booked on demand, picked up, and then dropped off at one of a number of hubs across central London. Booking a car through the app also effectively books a parking space at the chosen drop-off location.
"One of the things that we really wanted to ensure with our service was flexibility of use," Alicia Agius, product innovation manager of Ford Europe, told BuzzFeed News. "If you use our services it's fully on demand. You bring the car back when you're ready and you don't say exactly when you're going to return it."
GoDrive, like many of the company's other experiments, is Ford's answer to industry disruptors like ride-hail giants Uber and Lyft — which are both gunning to replace personal car ownership.
"I think it's helping us understand the model and what our place is in this model going forward and in the future," Agius said. "We're not saying that we want to be a global car-sharing operator. But we do see it as a growing market and [feel] there's a place for it going forward. We also view it as a huge opportunity in terms of accessing new customers — both non-car and non-Ford-owning customers — which is another huge benefit to operating in the space."
One key goal of GoDrive is to spur adoption of Ford's electric vehicles, yet the program's fleet includes gas-powered cars as well. Agius said there's good reason for that. "We obviously thought early on about having a 100% electric fleet," she said. "As this is an experiment and it's really about learning, by having the choice between electric and petrol it helps us understand why people are choosing electric cars and what sorts of people choose electric. We're already gaining lots of information about that."
As part of this effort, consumers who use the GoDrive service are asked to complete a survey asking which vehicle they chose and why. While it's too early to draw any definitive conclusions, Agius said Ford has already learned a bit more about why people aren't choosing electric cars. "Sometimes it's lack of knowledge, misunderstanding, or even a fear that it's going to be very different to drive," she said. "There's also the other type of customer that couldn't wait to get into the electric car and that was one of the main reasons for wanting to join."
The service does require membership in order to validate each driver's license — but it comes at no additional cost. Drivers only have to pay for each minute they use the car at a rate of 17 pence per minute — about 10 euros per hour.
Though Ford has experimented with other car-sharing and swapping services in markets like Germany, Michigan, and India, GoDrive was the only one mature enough to launch publicly. Agius said London was an obvious first choice of market.
"From an experimental perspective London is a perfect storm in terms of different variables affecting a car-sharing program," she said. "There's extremely constrained parking in central London, congestion and air quality concerns, and also the multiple boroughs in central London that make it quite a difficult city to operate in. Because it's an experiment it is about learning and we wanted to make sure we were operating in a geography that would maximize learning.
"And London is obviously quite densely populated — there is huge untapped potential in London for a really designed car-sharing model that suits London and Londoners to flourish on."