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By birth and by choice, I've been involved with the auto industry my entire life, and for the past 30 years, I've worked at Ford Motor Company. And for most of those years, I worried about, how am I going to sell more cars and trucks? But today I worry about, what if all we do is sell more cars and trucks? What happens when the number of vehicles on the road doubles, triples, or even quadruples?
My life is guided by two great passions, and the first is automobiles. I literally grew up with the Ford Motor Company. I thought it was so cool as a little boy when my dad would bring home the latest Ford or Lincoln and leave it in the driveway. And I decided about that time, about age 10, that it would be really cool if I was a test driver. So my parents would go to dinner. They'd sit down; I'd sneak out of the house. I'd jump behind the wheel and take the new model around the driveway, and it was a blast. And that went on for about two years, until -- I think I was about 12 -- my dad brought home a Lincoln Mark III. And it was snowing that day. So he and mom went to dinner, and I snuck out and thought it'd be really cool to do donuts or even some figure-eights in the snow. My dad finished dinner early that evening. And he was walking to the front hall and out the front door just about the same time I hit some ice and met him at the front door with the car -- and almost ended up in the front hall. So it kind of cooled my test-driving for a little while. But I really began to love cars then. And my first car was a 1975 electric-green Mustang. And even though the color was pretty hideous, I did love the car, and it really cemented my love affair with cars that's continued on to this day.
But cars are really more than a passion of mine; they're quite literally in my blood. My great grandfather was Henry Ford, and on my mother's side, my great grandfather was Harvey Firestone. So when I was born, I guess you could say expectations were kind of high for me. But my great grandfather, Henry Ford, really believed that the mission of the Ford Motor Company was to make people's lives better and make cars affordable so that everyone could have them. Because he believed that with mobility comes freedom and progress. And that's a belief that I share.
My other great passion is the environment. And as a young boy, I used to go up to Northern Michigan and fish in the rivers that Hemingway fished in and then later wrote about. And it really struck me as the years went by, in a very negative way, when I would go to some stream that I'd loved, and was used to walking through this field that was once filled with fireflies, and now had a strip mall or a bunch of condos on it. And so even at a young age, that really resonated with me, and the whole notion of environmental preservation, at a very basic level, sunk in with me.
As a high-schooler, I started to read authors like Thoreau and Aldo Leopold and Edward Abbey, and I really began to develop a deeper appreciation of the natural world. But it never really occurred to me that my love of cars and trucks would ever be in conflict with nature. And that was true until I got to college. And when I got to college, you can imagine my surprise when I would go to class and a number of my professors would say that Ford Motor Company and my family was everything that was wrong with our country. They thought that we were more interested, as an industry, in profits, rather than progress, and that we filled the skies with smog -- and frankly, we were the enemy.
I joined Ford after college, after some soul searching whether or not this is really the right thing to do. But I decided that I wanted to go and see if I could affect change there. And as I look back over 30 years ago, it was a little naive to think at that age that I could. But I wanted to. And I really discovered that my professors weren't completely wrong. In fact, when I got back to Detroit, my environmental leanings weren't exactly embraced by those in my own company, and certainly by those in the industry. I had some very interesting conversations, as you can imagine. There were some within Ford who believed that all this ecological nonsense should just disappear and that I needed to stop hanging out with "environmental wackos." I was considered a radical. And I'll never forget the day I was called in by a member of top management and told to stop associating with any known or suspected environmentalists. (Laughter) Of course, I had no intention of doing that, and I kept speaking out about the environment, and it really was the topic that we now today call sustainability. And in time, my views went from controversial to more or less consensus today. I mean, I think most people in the industry understand that we've got to get on with it.
And the good news is today we are tackling the big issues, of cars and the environment -- not only at Ford, but really as an industry. We're pushing fuel efficiency to new heights. And with new technology, we're reducing -- and I believe, someday we'll eliminate -- CO2 emissions. We're starting to sell electric cars, which is great. We're developing alternative powertrains that are going to make cars affordable in every sense of the word -- economically, socially and environmentally. And actually, although we've got a long way to go and a lot of work to do, I can see the day where my two great passions -- cars and the environment -- actually come into harmony.
But unfortunately, as we're on our way to solving one monstrous problem -- and as I said, we're not there yet; we've got a lot of work to do, but I can see where we will -- but even as we're in the process of doing that, another huge problem is looming, and people aren't noticing. And that is the freedom of mobility that my great grandfather brought to people is now being threatened, just as the environment is. The problem, put in its simplest terms, is one of mathematics. Today there are approximately 6.8 billion people in the world, and within our lifetime, that number's going to grow to about nine billion. And at that population level, our planet will be dealing with the limits of growth. And with that growth comes some severe practical problems, one of which is our transportation system simply won't be able to deal with it.
When we look at the population growth in terms of cars, it becomes even clearer. Today there are about 800 million cars on the road worldwide. But with more people and greater prosperity around the world, that number's going to grow to between two and four billion cars by mid century. And this is going to create the kind of global gridlock that the world has never seen before. Now think about the impact that this is going to have on our daily lives. Today the average American spends about a week a year stuck in traffic jams, and that's a huge waste of time and resources. But that's nothing compared to what's going on in the nations that are growing the fastest. Today the average driver in Beijing has a five-hour commute. And last summer -- many of you probably saw this -- there was a hundred-mile traffic jam that took 11 days to clear in China. In the decades to come, 75 percent of the world's population will live in cities, and 50 of those cities will be of 10 million people or more.
So you can see the size of the issue that we're facing. When you factor in population growth, it's clear that the mobility model that we have today simply will not work tomorrow. Frankly, four billion clean cars on the road are still four billion cars, and a traffic jam with no emissions is still a traffic jam. So, if we make no changes today, what does tomorrow look like? Well I think you probably already have the picture. Traffic jams are just a symptom of this challenge, and they're really very, very inconvenient, but that's all they are. But the bigger issue is that global gridlock is going to stifle economic growth and our ability to deliver food and health care, particularly to people that live in city centers. And our quality of life is going to be severely compromised. So what's going to solve this?
Well the answer isn't going to be more of the same. My great grandfather once said before he invented the Model T, "If I had asked people then what they wanted, they would have answered, 'We want faster horses.'" So the answer to more cars is simply not to have more roads. When America began moving west, we didn't add more wagon trains, we built railroads. And to connect our country after World War II, we didn't build more two-lane highways, we built the interstate highway system. Today we need that same leap in thinking for us to create a viable future. We are going to build smart cars, but we also need to build smart roads, smart parking, smart public transportation systems and more. We don't want to waste our time sitting in traffic, sitting at tollbooths or looking for parking spots. We need an integrated system that uses real time data to optimize personal mobility on a massive scale without hassle or compromises for travelers. And frankly, that's the kind of system that's going to make the future of personal mobility sustainable.
Now the good news is some of this work has already begun in different parts of the world. The city of Masdar in Abu Dhabi uses driverless electric vehicles that can communicate with one another, and they go underneath the city streets. And up above, you've got a series of pedestrian walkways. On New York City's 34th Street, gridlock will soon be replaced with a connected system of vehicle-specific corridors. Pedestrian zones and dedicated traffic lanes are going to be created, and all of this will cut down the average rush hour commute to get across town in New York from about an hour today at rush hour to about 20 minutes. Now if you look at Hong Kong, they have a very interesting system called Octopus there. It's a system that really ties together all the transportation assets into a single payment system. So parking garages, buses, trains, they all operate within the same system. Now shared car services are also springing up around the world, and these efforts, I think, are great. They're relieving congestion, and they're frankly starting to save some fuel.
These are all really good ideas that will move us forward. But what really inspires me is what's going to be possible when our cars can begin talking to each other. Very soon, the same systems that we use today to bring music and entertainment and GPS information into our vehicles are going to be used to create a smart vehicle network. Every morning I drive about 30 miles from my home in Ann Arbor to my office in Dearborn, Michigan. And every night I go home, my commute is a total crapshoot. And I often have to leave the freeway and look for different ways for me to try and make it home. But very soon we're going to see the days when cars are essentially talking to each other. So if the car ahead of me on I-94 hits traffic, it will immediately alert my car and tell my car to reroute itself to get me home in the best possible way. And these systems are being tested right now, and frankly they're going to be ready for prime time pretty soon.
But the potential of a connected car network is almost limitless. So just imagine: one day very soon, you're going to be able to plan a trip downtown and your car will be connected to a smart parking system. So you get in your car, and as you get in your car, your car will reserve you a parking spot before you arrive -- no more driving around looking for one, which frankly is one of the biggest users of fuel in today's cars in urban areas -- is looking for parking spots. Or think about being in New York City and tracking down an intelligent cab on your smart phone so you don't have to wait in the cold to hail one. Or being at a future TED Conference and having your car talk to the calendars of everybody here and telling you all the best route to take home and when you should leave so that you can all arrive at your next destination on time. This is the kind of technology that will merge millions of individual vehicles into a single system.
So I think it's clear we have the beginnings of a solution to this enormous problem. But as we found out with addressing CO2 issues, and also fossil fuels, there is no one silver bullet. The solution is not going to be more cars, more roads or a new rail system; it can only be found, I believe, in a global network of interconnected solutions. Now I know we can develop the technology that's going to make this work, but we've got to be willing to get out there and seek out the solutions -- whether that means vehicle sharing or public transportation or some other way we haven't even thought of yet; our overall transportation-mix and infrastructure must support all the future options.
We need our best and our brightest to start entertaining this issue. Companies, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, they all need to understand this is a huge business opportunity, as well as an enormous social problem. And just as these groups embrace the green energy challenge -- and it's really been amazing to me to watch how much brain power, how much money and how much serious thought has, really over the last three years, just poured into the green energy field. We need that same kind of passion and energy to attack global gridlock. But we need people like all of you in this room, leading thinkers. I mean, frankly, I need all of you to think about how you can help solve this huge issue. And we need people from all walks of life; not just inventors, we need policymakers and government officials to also think about how they're going to respond to this challenge.
This isn't going to be solved by any one person or one group. It's going to really require a national energy policy, frankly for each country, because the solutions in each country are going to be different based upon income levels, traffic jams and also how integrated the systems already are. But we need to get going, and we need to get going today. And we must have an infrastructure that's designed to support this flexible future.
You know, we've come a long way. Since the Model T, most people never traveled more than 25 miles from home in their entire lifetime. And since then, the automobile has allowed us the freedom to choose where we live, where we work, where we play and frankly when we just go out and want to move around. We don't want to regress and lose that freedom. We're on our way to solving -- and as I said earlier, I know we've got a long way to go -- the one big issue that we're all focused on that threatens it, and that's the environmental issue, but I believe we all must turn all of our effort and all of our ingenuity and determination to help now solve this notion of global gridlock. Because in doing so, we're going to preserve what we've really come to take for granted, which is the freedom to move and move very effortlessly around the world. And it frankly will enhance our quality of life if we fix this. Because, if you can envision, as I do, a future of zero emissions and freedom to move around the country and around the world like we take for granted today, that's worth the hard work today to preserve that for tomorrow.
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Bill Ford is a car guy -- his great-grandfather was Henry Ford, and he grew up inside the massive Ford Motor Co. So when he worries about cars' impact on the environment, and about our growing global gridlock problem, it's worth a listen. His vision for the future of mobility includes "smart roads," even smarter public transport and going green like never before.
As executive chair of the Ford Motor Company, Bill Ford leads the company that put the world on wheels. Full bio »