Who saw this coming? All of a sudden the automotive industry looks vibrant and exciting. On one hand you have tech companies like Google racing to develop fully autonomous cars, while companies like Tesla challenge the last century of internal combustion engine dominance. Then there are young start-up companies like Uber making the age-old taxi industry obsolete. Things are getting intense in the often predictable and sometimes boring automotive industry.
On the flip side, those age-old industrial automotive manufacturers -- companies like Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) -- have to figure out ways to navigate the evolving industry. Throughout 2015, Detroit's second-largest automaker has been testing multiple mobility and innovation experiments around the world. Is it possible that Ford could even out-Uber Uber?
Let's take a look at three strategies Ford is experimenting with in London, and what impact they could have on the company's future.
Get with the times
As more and more consumers become interested in ditching a car for different means of travel and mobility, ridesharing is becoming an increasingly appealing option and a growing business. Uber was recently valued at roughly $50 billion, and is estimated to generate around $2 billion in net revenue annually. According to a study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, car-sharing could be a $6.1 billion-per-year industry by the end of this decade.
Ford's experiments in London show it's interested in taking a slice of that pie, and is focusing on strategies that would provide new revenue streams and new consumers. Take Ford's city driving on-demand experiment, which placed a fleet of Focus electric vehicles and Fiestas with EcoBoost engines around London. The program allowed consumers to register, get directions, reserve a vehicle, and pay, all through a mobile app. It's easier, quicker, and more flexible than car club alternatives, and, through the use of electric vehicles and low-emission EcoBoost options, can reduce road congestion and pollution.
Though Ford hasn't shared any such intentions, it's not difficult to imagine a fleet of Lincoln Continentals offering ride-sharing services in certain markets. That would not only provide incremental revenue, but would also create positive experiences and marketing for its struggling Lincoln brand by putting into Continentals -- or other Lincoln vehicles -- consumers who otherwise might never have considered the brand.
Car-sharing sounds like a promising way for Ford to generate incremental revenue, but that's not all. Ford has even bigger ideas.
What else is brewing overseas?
Another experiment in London has been dubbed the Dynamic Social Shuttle. Ford is experimenting with a shareable service of minibuses that offer point-to-point pickup and drop-off that accommodates four to 10 passengers, and which riders can hail via a smartphone app. There are multiple routes for Ford to drive revenue with this opportunity. It could deploy a pay-per-trip strategy similar to its car-sharing experiment, or it could develop a franchise-style business opportunity selling buses to small business owners to shuttle passengers throughout the city.
Ford's third experiment in London is a bit more out-of-the-box. It focuses on collecting data on driver behavior over time to build a personalized profile. The ultimate goal is for the automaker to collect and analyze performance data to create consumer profiles, which will then be used to calculate lower insurance rates for better drivers.
"Henry Ford taught us long ago that a good business makes excellent products and earns a healthy return," said Ford CEO Mark Fields in a press release. "A great business does all that while creating a better world. That is what continues to drive us each day."
Ultimately, it's clear that the automotive industry is changing rapidly and will continue to do so over the next few decades. Ford sees this, and is actively finding ways to expand its business and adapt to the changes, which is great news for long-term investors. It's not out of the realm of possibility that in 10 years Ford could drive billions of incremental dollars to its top line through businesses it has yet to enter today. That's pretty exciting -- for seemingly ancient auto manufacturers and their investors, at least.