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Bill Ford says mobile technology can help beat global congestion (Photo: Ford)

Bill Ford called on the automotive and mobile industries to work closely together to deal with the challenges posed by the growing number of cars clogging the roads in a world with ever more megacities.

In a keynote address to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Ford, the chairman of the US carmaker that bears his family's name, painted a picture of a world where, by mid-century the number of cars worldwide will have risen to 4 billion from 1 billion today. With more people living in cities, this could lead to "global gridlock," if action isn't taken, Ford said.

"If we do nothing, we face the prospect of global gridlock, a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy and resources and even compromises the flow of commerce and healthcare," he said.

The Ford chairman said solutions to the looming congestion problems require a cross-industry approach. "The telecommunications industry is critical in the creation of an interconnected transportation system where cars are intelligent and can talk to one another as well as the infrastructure around them," Ford said. And he called on both industries to look at cars "the same way we look at smartphones, laptops and tablets, as pieces of a much bigger, richer network."

Dialogue

National and local governments will also need to play a bigger role in making traffic flow more smoothly. "It's important to start the dialogue with governments now," Ford said.

In the middle of the last decade, Bill Ford was an early proponent of building more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendlier cars. But his message fell on deaf ears at a time when fuel prices were lower than today and Americans continued to buy bigger cars.

Today, Ford believes the industry is on the right track when it comes to building more ecologically friendly cars. Now, he said in Barcelona, "global gridlock needs the same determination."

The Ford chairman illustrated his message with a wealth of disturbing statistics about the impact of traffic congestion. In Sao Paulo, he noted, traffic jams regularly exceed 100 miles and the average commute lasts between two and three hours a day. In China, he cited one instance of an 11-day-long gridlock in 2010. And he quoted an estimate that congestion will cost the British economy 35 billion dlrs a year by 2025.

Bill Ford laid out a vision that included, in the near term, better in-car mobile communication options, more research into car-to-car warning systems, better driver assistance functions and new vehicle ownership models.

In the medium term, which Ford defined as 2017 through 2025, he predicted more semi-autonomous driving technology, increased car-to-car communication and continued integration of the transport network featuring cars plugged into public databases.

Radical changes

After 2025, Ford predicted a "radically different transportation landscape," with cars, trucks, pedestrians, bicycles and public transportation all woven together into a single connected network.

"How we move people around the world is one of the most compelling challenge we face," Ford said. He acknowedged that there is no clear strategy for tackling urban mobility problems today, but noted that new technologies such as smart parking, car sharing and scores of projects that involve both the automotive and mobile industries show the potential to find these solutions.

Said Ford: "It's a huge opportunity for both of our industries."

-By Arjen Bongard