Ford Embraces Sharing With Plan for Owners to Rent Out Cars

Ford Motor Co. is driving deeper into the car-sharing business by helping owners of its models rent out their cars when they’re not using them.

The company is rolling out a test program involving 14,000 customers in six U.S. cities and 12,000 in London that lets owners of Ford-financed vehicles engage in “peer-to-peer” sharing to prescreened renters, according to a statement.

“We now are moving from experimentation to implementation” after six months of gathering data and talking to consumers about new forms of mobility, Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields said at a conference Tuesday at Ford’s research lab in Palo Alto, California.

Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, is preparing for a future with more shared vehicles and self-driving cars as more people crowd into big cities over the next 25 years and require new forms of mobility to avoid gridlock. The company last month started offering a network of shared cars in London to tap the growing market for on-demand driving.

The company also said Tuesday that it’s introducing an electric bike along with a prototype smartphone application that provides information such as traffic, weather and parking to make the bike easier to use.

The U.S. cities in the new car-sharing program, which runs through November, are Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco in California; Portland, Oregon; Chicago; and Washington.

The automaker said earlier Tuesday that it’s moving development of its self-driving cars from the research lab to its advanced engineering operations.

‘Different Futures’

“There are a lot of different futures in mobility,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in an interview last month. “Because autonomy, that’s mobility. You’ve got connected car, you’ve got these different ways to access vehicles. You’ve got fractional ownership in Zipcar. You’ve got Uber and Lyft. In aggregate, it is changing the way we use our vehicles. And it’s happening really fast.”

To succeed in the future, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company will have to overhaul its business model to go beyond making and selling cars and trucks, Bill Ford said.

“If we all collectively did nothing and we stayed with the current business model, we could just end up being assemblers of other people’s stuff with a very low-margin, high fixed-cost business,” the chairman said. “The company that figures out how to navigate this could really actually end up raising margins and changing the business model in a way that will be very healthy.”

The automaker said young people in the U.S. rank car rides behind only books as things they are most open to sharing, with more than half of millennials willing to share rides. Ford citied findings by research firm Penn Schoen Berland.

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