I’m wary when companies use vague or overly broad words to describe major initiatives, especially involving technology. And so it was with wariness but also curiosity that I approached a first-time meeting Wednesday with Jim Hackett, the new CEO of Ford. He’s also the former CEO of Steelcase (scs) and, in between those two posts, a Ford board member and head of the venerable automaker’s “smart mobility” unit.
What exactly, I wondered, does Ford (f) mean by mobility, a vague and overly broad term that makes me think of cell phones but might also pertain to movement among the social classes or a rehab patient’s progress? It turns out, says Hackett, that Ford thinks of mobility as a “catch-all” phrase that encompasses all non-traditional businesses. In other words, anything that doesn’t involve popping an internal-combustion engine into a vehicle and selling it, is a potential mobility product.
Mobility is sexy, but it doesn’t account for much of Ford’s revenue. And although Hackett’s predecessor, Mark Fields, got the boot for not having a coherent strategy, Ford already has made a handful of non-traditional moves. It’s a partner in a popular bike sharing program. And it operates Chariot, a “micro-transit” shuttle service in several U.S. cities.
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Hackett sees his mission as positioning Ford for the day when most people live in cities and may or may not need their own car. He’s currently drafting a 100-day plan for Ford he plans to unveil in October. In the meantime, he says the company will consider a “smorgasbord” of options that involve moving people around. He hinted, for example, that Ford is looking closely at a “metered parking” business (a la startup SpotHero) and various “curb management” schemes.
Everything is on the table, he says, including ride-hailing, though he professes to be uninterested in owning a piece of Uber or Lyft. Right now Ford supplies those companies’ drivers, notes Hackett. If Ford were to own the service, “they’ll want a discount, and I don’t want to destroy our margins.”
Not destroying margins in the challenged car business is neither a vague nor overly broad goal, provided a detailed strategy follows.