FutureStructure

Ford Eyes Columbus, Ohio, as Key to Future

Ford was among the last companies to show up for the Smart City party, but was one of the first companies invited back when Columbus won the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge last year.

by Tim Feran, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / May 10, 2017
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(TNS) -- The 21st century version of the Model T — that's what Ford is aiming to create in partnership with Columbus.

That was one of the big messages delivered by Jon Coleman, director of city solutions for Ford Smart Mobility, to a Tuesday afternoon session at Columbus Startup Week.

Ford was among the last companies to show up for the Smart City party, Coleman said, but was one of the first companies invited back when Columbus won the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge last year.

"We don't see a better place to create the future of mobility than Columbus," said the Worthington native. "Why Columbus? Because I grew up here and went to Ohio State? No, although it's a nice benefit."

The reasons boil down to the ability of various sectors in Columbus to work together, Coleman said.

While Ford is investing $4.5 billion in electric power trains for its vehicles of the future, "when it comes to mobility, no one company is going to solve this problem," Coleman said.

"When we were looking for cities we wanted alignment in the city space, with county support and state support, and we saw that in Columbus. We also looked for alignment in the private sphere, with companies willing to work together and alongside the city. Lastly, we looked for a strong non-profit ... academic sector that can do a lot of heavy lifting (in the technology area)," he said.

Last June, Columbus bested six other finalists in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City competition to receive $50 million in grants from the federal government and Vulcan Inc. to develop the city into the nation's proving ground for intelligent transportation systems.

"Our vision for the future of Columbus is something we're looking forward to creating with the city," Coleman said. While Ford still builds "cars and trucks and we really love building them, we can't continue pouring concrete and putting vehicles on roadways — particularly in urban areas — in the same way we have in the past 100 years.

"So we're trying to figure out the 21st century vision of the Model T," Coleman said. "Much like the Model T 100 years ago, we are looking for a way to help people who were previously constrained by a lack of mobility to thrive and flourish."

After Columbus won the Smart Cities challenge, many people were left with the idea that the city would begin to see immediate results, with driverless vehicles and electric cars.

But the program is actually a long-term effort, said Jordan Davis, director of Smart Cities at the Columbus Partnership, who spoke along with Coleman at the Startup Week event. Columbus "won the opportunity to be a teacher for how to be a smart city," Davis said.

"We have a vision to become a model for the rest of the world," Davis said. "Ford has been a true partner, and Jon is almost an expert-in-residence."

©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.