New fleet director Owen Gregory outlines how Ford is aiming to meet customers’ needs of tomorrow.
Owen Gregory is just a few months into the top fleet job at Ford and can already see big changes on the horizon. The manufacturer intends to expand its business to be both an automotive and a mobility company and has moved from what Gregory describes as “an experimental phase” (Ford has run 20 different mobility projects globally in the past two years, including London car sharing project GoDrive, which closes this month) to “something much more solid”.
“It became apparent that to be successful in this space we needed to create a separate company to ensure it is responsive and dynamic and nimble enough to address how fast paced this market is,” Gregory says.
A team, called City Solutions, now sits within Ford Smart Mobility and is responsible for working with cities to help find mobility solutions. Last month, the company made its first purchase: a commuter ride-sharing service in San Francisco called Chariot.
The next step is FordPass, a platform which brings together different mobility apps and is due to be launched in the UK by the end of the year.
“Our aspiration is that it becomes the iTunes of mobility; the go-to place for what you want to know about mobility,” Gregory says. “The content of that will grow over time.
“If you’re a Ford owner today there is lots of functionality we can incorporate quite early on but the objective is that FordPass is available and is useful and is used by people that own and drive Fords and those who don’t.”
There are four parts to FordPass: FordPass Marketplace (which provides information about the vehicle and allows it be booked in for a service), FordGuides (essentially a number a driver can call to seek mobility advice), FordPass Perks (a reward scheme with selected partners) and FordHubs (‘experience’ centres in urban areas).
While FordPass is arguably more of a consumer than a fleet product, Gregory believes there is growing interest from fleet managers in mobility.
“Smart mobility is such a huge term,” he says. “Do I think there is interest from fleet managers for efficient and effective operations of car sharing schemes within the company? Yes, absolutely. Do I think they are going to become increasingly interested and aware of what smart mobility will mean in the future? Yes, absolutely.
“But that will all be completely dependent on their individual circumstances – the segment they are operating in and physically where they are operating. If you’re in a major city then chances are your challenges are very different than if you are operating on a large industrial estate in a semi-rural location. The answer is ‘yes’ there is interest in smart mobility but in what form is going to be as individual as every customer’s needs.”
Ford has put another marker down by saying it will have a fully autonomous vehicle at volume in a ride-sharing or ride-hailing operation by 2021.
“We’ve been working on autonomous cars for 10 years and I think it’s quite helpful to be concrete in terms of ‘this is our aspiration, this is what we’re working towards’,” Gregory says. “It helps us in the company and it helps those outside understand where our real direction of travel is.”
The vehicle will be ‘level four’ automation meaning it will not have a steering wheel or pedals. “This is not some fancy driver aid, this is a fully autonomous vehicle operating in an urban area,” Gregory says.
However, he acknowledges that there are a number of challenges that have to be overcome.
“There are the technological issues to overcome – things that you need in place for level four automation. You need high quality mapping, the lidar sensors and the radar, and we’ve invested in manufacturers of those systems. You also need quite advanced software and machine learning to understand how to process that information in a way that is reliable.
“The other challenges are legislative in terms of liability and responsibility of a vehicle in operation and those are very much on-going discussions we need to be part of with regulators and legislators to make sure we are all aligned.”
Gregory believes autonomous vehicles have the potential to “take driver behaviour out of the equation” for fleet managers but that is “much longer term” as many company car drivers don’t just work in an urban environment and “centimetre accurate mapping” would be needed for the other areas.
“You need to be at level five automation and that’s when you completely replicate the human brain,” he says.
Ford’s more immediate fleet challenge is getting customers to consider other models in the company line-up.
“There is a tendency for some customers we have been dealing with for a long time to go, ‘OK, what’s the next one of these?’. And one of the challenges we’ve got is to say, ‘well, have you thought about different opportunities?’. Because a procurement team in a large business may not be aware of what the potential cost of ownership model might look like on an SUV and they are often surprised – in a good way.”
Gregory is keen to point out that the Edge is “second only to Land Rover on residual values in the SUV segment”.
The new ST Line, which “brings the essence of Ford performance to more customers” is currently available on the Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo and will be introduced to the new Kuga.
ST Line represents a big opportunity with user-choosers, according to Gregory. “It has got great styling but married to engines that are very affordable from both a running cost and tax perspective and the feedback so far on residual values has been really strong so it does form a strong proposition in terms of affordability and monthly rentals,” he says.
Ford is also getting more and more fleet enquiries about the Mondeo Hybrid. “It’s good because it’s quite new,” he says. “A lot of product launches can take time to filter down into people’s awareness and I think it will build over time.”
Gregory has spent the first few months in the job meeting fleet customers and dealers, and listening to his team.
“At the moment I’m very much into understanding each of the channels in terms of where do I think we are performing strongly and where do I think we’ve got opportunity. I am very much of the ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality and there is so much strength in my team that I really don’t want to be changing things just for the sake of it,” he says.
“What I am finding is actually there are many things we are strong today and very well placed to continue to be strong over the next four or five years, which is great.
“I think there are some opportunities in the car side of the business on contract hire and we need to think through what the best way of unlocking those opportunities is. We’ve got some great partners we work with to access that channel and it’s about listening to them, working with them and understanding what we need to do to grow together.”
As well as the strategic review of Ford’s fleet operation, Gregory is keeping a close watch on the recent Government consultations on tax policy (Fleet News, August 18). In Ford’s experience, salary sacrifice cars replace older, grey fleet vehicles and Gregory believes it will be interesting to see how the Government balances salary sacrifice schemes with its wider policy objective of getting more people into modern, safer, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“We’re watching in a very interested way to see how that discussion plays out and what the implications might be for us,” he says.
Brexit has yet to cause “any significant issues”, although “this uncertainty isn’t what we would have chosen”, according to Gregory. “We did see a week or two where some of our customers were waiting to see what happened but actually very quickly, along with most of us, they have realised the world keeps turning and we need to continue to do business and drive the economy,” he says.
“We’re here to help our customers grow their business, whether it is inside or outside the EU. That’s what gets me up in the morning, gets my team up in the morning, to keep those wheels of business turning.”
Owen Gregory on …
Vans: “We’ve been particularly strong on commercial vehicles this year and we are building a lot of momentum. We’ve been really pleased with how the Courier has been accepted. The segment isn’t massive but we’re doing very well in it. Custom continues to be incredibly strong and customers are asking for higher specification because that is ‘their office’ in many cases and they want something that is increasingly comfortable and car-like.”
AdBlue: “We made a conscious decision to locate the AdBlue filler next to the fuel one on Ranger, Transit Custom and Transit to try to make the operation of AdBlue as easy as we can. And, with the combination of Easy Fuel on the fuel filler cap, that means you don’t have misfuelling issues. We’ve got regular reminders in the instrument cluster to fill up and for those fleet operators who want to have a good handle on it then our Ford telematics can give real time data on AdBlue levels. We’re also anticipating more pump-side availability of AdBlue so it should make the whole process much easier for van operators.”