Q&A with Barb Samardzich

March 4, 2015

Ford of Europe’s chief operating officer Barb Samardzich is responsible for manufacturing, quality, product development, purchasing, sustainability, environment and safety engineering operations.We caught up with Barb at global tech fair Mobile World Congress.

Hi, Barb. Welcome to Mobile World Congress.

Thanks. It’s my first time. It’s incredible to see all the technology, innovations and ideas on show here.

What’s caught your eye already?

It’s fascinating to see where other companies from beyond the world of automotive are going with new technologies and innovations. It’s also great to see how the companies of the future see our lives becoming more connected, as showcased by the start-ups featured through “4 Years From Now”.

What is Ford’s take on being connected?

Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, we announced the Ford Smart Mobility plan, to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles.  We are driving innovation in every part of our business to be both a product and mobility company – and, ultimately, to change the way the world moves just as our founder Henry Ford did 111 years ago. We are highlighting elements of this plan for the first time in Europe at Mobile World Congress.

What does it mean to change the way the world moves?

I don’t want to spend any more time stuck in traffic than necessary. But it’s more important than that. We want to ensure the freedom of movement of both people and economies. The world is changing and it’s growing, and we have to change and grow with it. To change the way the world moves and to ensure freedom of movement, we need to change the way we think, collaborate and behave. We need to start developing smarter transportation systems that alleviate congestion and improve the quality of life in busy cities.

How do electric bikes figure in this plan?

There is no one-stop-shop solution to mobility. We are testing a wide range of experiments worldwide, many in Europe. Today, we are announcing for the first time our electric bikes experiment Handle on Mobility. For this experiment we have developed two very different e-bikes – one for commuters, and one for commercial use – and with one common intent, that customers are able to enjoy journeys that are safer, healthier, and more efficient. We see the e-bikes as presenting another means of travelling from A to B, alongside public and private transport, so that journey can be quicker and easier. These bikes fold easily in a vehicle where they can be charged, work together with a journey-planning smartphone app, reduce the need to pedal, and even vibrates the handlebars when it’s time to turn.

So e-bikes are the future?

We really don’t know yet, and that’s the point. We have a significant range of experiments exploring all kinds of solutions to today’s transport challenges. Bicycles play a role in transport around the world, so it makes sense to see how they could do so in a way which is more integrated. But, in Europe alone, we are also investigating new approaches to car-sharing, insurance and shuttle-services.

What’s the time frame for these experiments?

Each experiment is unique, but we plan for them to be completed by the end of 2015. We will most likely launch additional initiatives and modify projects throughout the year to broaden our learning. Research and testing is a big part of what we’re doing. It helps us to find out what works and to develop smarter, more connected mobility solutions.

How about in terms of the cars we drive now – how are they connected?

Right now many of our cars in Europe are equipped with technologies that mean our customers are more connected than ever before, in all kinds of ways. One example would be our voice-activated SYNC 2 connectivity system that we announced here last year. Customers buying the new Ford Focus will find it actually helps find a restaurant, book a table, and guides you there via the satnav.

Are mobility issues really such a concern for people?

If the world keeps developing at the rate it is, with a rising population, the growth of cities, an increasing global middle class and lots more cars on the road, the pressure on infrastructure and available transport modes will be enormous. These are the factors leading us towards what Bill Ford referred to as “global gridlock” in the Blueprint for Mobility keynote speech he gave at Mobile World Congress three years ago. We need to start finding solutions now.

How do mobility issues impact business?

The cost of congestion is incredible. For the European Union, it’s around €100 billion per year. You also have to consider the emotional cost of anxiety and stress. Problems with urban mobility impact everyone, from small businesses to big corporations, from healthcare professionals to city services, and from commuters going to the office to parents taking their kids to football practice.

Thank you Barb. What does the rest of the week hold for you?

Well, March 8 is International Women’s Day which gives us the chance to really celebrate the success of women, not just in Europe, not just at Ford, but around the world. It gives us a stopping point to recognise the accomplishments of women globally.