In the third installation of our series, PwC's Don Reed spoke with John Viera, Global Director, Sustainability and Vehicle Environmental Matters at Ford (and a frequent GreenBiz contributor). One of America's most well-known companies, Ford is looking ahead at its next century of innovation. Viera talks about intelligent vehicles, from what exactly that might mean to what it will take to get them out on the road.
Don Reed: When you talk about intelligent vehicles, what does that mean?
John Viera: You can think of intelligence as two things: first and foremost we'd like the vehicle itself to be safer. The other piece is around improvement in mobility, so how the vehicle interacts with the surrounding infrastructure.
Over the last several years, there has been a lot of focus on active safety -- adjustable cruise control that slows your vehicle down as you're approaching another vehicle, warning signals when you're backing up, rear cameras and all of that. It's all part of accident avoidance.
Now, we're looking ahead to the point where vehicle-to-vehicle communication can be used to really cut down on accidents. There are also vehicle-to-infrastructure features: which will allow for an understanding of where a vehicle is relative to traffic patterns. That'll be beneficial as well.
DR: What are the challenges of getting these technologies into your vehicles?
JV: When you talk about vehicle-to-vehicle technologies, obviously you're going to want to have all vehicles from all automakers have the same features, but the business case is challenging. You can't really charge people for something that either doesn't work because none of the other vehicles have it, or other vehicles have it, so it's not a premium feature.
I also think we're going to have some pretty big hurdles in spaces where we have to interface with entities outside of just the vehicle itself -- vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, etc. How do you get those entities to standardize so that our vehicles, regardless of where they're being driven around or where they're being operated, are going to be able to take advantage of whatever technology we have in the vehicle?
DR: Let's talk about vehicle-to-grid. What needs to happen there?
JV: The electric vehicle ecosystem consists of not only the electric vehicle but also the plug that is used to charge the vehicles, the charging stations, and everything all the way back to the utility. There's tremendous opportunity for optimization in that space. It's a lot of different entities that didn't used to work with each other.
I think the real key, though, is that we're probably not going to see really high-volume sales until the end of this decade. When we talk about working with IT suppliers and utility companies and some of the other entities that are required in this ecosystem, there's not a strong sense of urgency. But I see that as the glass being half full, because that means we have the opportunity to actually optimize the system. Let's get out there now before there's a ton of vehicles, and really get things set up to do them right.
DR: What do you mean by that? What would be included?
JV: The first step, which I know we try to take an active role on, is setting standards for the plugs, so the charging equipment is all the same -- like an appliance. Washers and dryers are all plugged in the same way, and that's what we want to have with electric vehicles. We're trying to bring all these parties together to say, "Hey, for that element, we need to be more common than uncommon."
Charging stations are going to be a huge piece. In the United States, in particular, you have a mindboggling number of utility companies. It's going to be a real challenge to set up the collective interface between the utility companies in the U.S., and the individuals that buy electric vehicles. Customers are going to be very unimpressed about buying an electric vehicle if they have to figure out, depending on what jurisdiction their utility company is in, what they're going to be charged and how they're going to be charged, and how they're going to be billed. DR: So, how else are you thinking about the value proposition of electric vehicles for consumers?
JV: When people lose their power in the United States, most of the time, it's only for a few hours. A battery electric vehicle, even without a full charge, could easily support the electric needs of a house for 2-3 hours. So, we think vehicle-to-home technologies could be of great value to the customer. When you start thinking about the price of an electric vehicle, if you can have other kinds of features available to you, well, hey, paying that premium for an electric vehicle becomes less of an issue.
DR: And how is Ford thinking about the future of mobility?
JV: The Ford Model T allowed the masses to afford an automobile, and it opened up the highways throughout the United States. But this model won't translate 20, 30 years from now, globally, where demand is going to double and triple. It's just not sustainable. The new model has to be a different model. So, while we might have the most environmentally friendly vehicle in terms of zero emissions, if we become too congested, it's not going to help, because we're not going to be able to move around.
So the new model is going to include things like intelligent transportation, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and all of that good stuff. It's also going to mean better integration of public and private transportation. Ford will be part of the dialog with cities and municipalities around the best interface between public transportation and private transportation.
Image courtesy of Ford.