Monday, 2 March 2015

Bikes?? What the £&@# are you doing, Ford?

Ford is one of the many auto companies creating innovation centres that develop digital experiences around what are very industrial economy (and very disrupted products). They have three and their stand at Mobile World Congress showcased some of the fruits of their endeavours.

Most conventional is an all electric Ford Focus that can sync with a mobile app, which gives the user a modicum of personalisation over the vehicle. You've seen it before. Ford's isn't the best. It isn't the worst. Blah.

Then there's an electric bicycle designed with Dahon. This is supposed to be a range extension product that enables commuters to make a choice of methods of commuting based on traffic conditions, weather, lifestyle etc... There's a pointless app for the cycles lights, turn signals etc... Clearly none of them have ever ridden a bike as poking at tiny buttons while in the saddle is a bit of a dangerous idea!

Finally and most interesting is a project being run out of their Palo Alto centre that measures the routes that cyclists take through cities as well as the prevailing weather conditions. The idea is to add that mapping data to navigation systems in order to enable people to make better choices about their mode of transport. I also suggested that it would be useful contextual data to feed into self-driving vehicles so that they know to leave extra room for cyclists on days when there are likely to be a lot of people commuting that way, but be less attentive on rainy days. I was met with a blank look, so maybe not!

In general I had a really nice time at Ford. The people were lovely. But I also asked several times why they were doing this. And no one seemed to know. Strava and Garmin know far more about cycle routes than Ford can with their little experiment. Weather data is available very freely. Mash them up for an MVP. Very few people are likely to choose their commuter bike based on the model of car they have... Unless they have a Lotus, perhaps. And so it goes on... 

This is a classic case of an idea in the lab not working in the real world because the people who would buy it don't actually make the choices that the developer thinks. Ford would have done well to actually think about commercial value and use cases before diving in and engineering clever telematics and stupid apps. Then they could have used a Lean Startup method to try it out for real. Not as glitzy but so much better!

Value hypothesis first, Ford. Henry wouldn't have been happy.

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