More than a century after Henry Ford changed the way the world moved, Ford Motor Company is once again working on new accessible innovations – this time to change the way China moves.

The automotive company recently highlighted greener, smarter, and more-accessible product and mobility innovations that will reshape how consumers in China and around the world move on an increasingly urbanized and congested planet in the next five years. It also announced plans to invest RMB 11.4 (US $1.8) billion in research and development in China as Chinese consumers increasingly drive global innovation.

“At Ford Motor Company, our goal is to make people’s lives better,” said Mark Fields, president and CEO, Ford Motor Company. “As both a product and mobility company, we are driving innovation in every part of our business. The result here in China will be positive change for consumers in the way people move, the way they drive, the cities they live in and the communities in which we operate."

China’s consumers are some of the most connected in the world, with nearly 600 million active smartphone users across the country – and they like to stay in touch on the road. A survey commissioned by Ford found that 45 percent of Chinese drivers have used their phones, and 31 percent have sent text messages, while stuck in traffic.

As cars have become extensions of their owners, much like smartphones, Ford said it has delivered a smarter, safer solution to keep drivers connected – SYNC, an in-car free connectivity system offering hands-free control of phones, entertainment, climate control and navigation.

Today, the company announced that there will be more than 1 million SYNC-equipped vehicles on the road in China by the end of 2015. This will be quickly followed with the 2016 introduction of SYNC 3.

“The next generation of Ford vehicles is being completely designed around our customers,” said John Lawler, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor China. “Ford is constantly going further to improve the innovative technologies that keep drivers safer and connected to their world.”

The automotive company said SYNC 3 is faster, more intuitive and even easier to use. Enhanced voice recognition technology, a more smartphone-like interface and easier-to-read graphics help to deliver an easier way to stay connected. In China, SYNC also will be the first in-car connectivity solution to feature support for Tencent’s new in-vehicle app, Chelian.

Chelian enables drivers to access popular Tencent services such as the QQ messaging app, as well as music, real-time traffic conditions and streaming radio. Drivers will be able to control the app with SYNC through Ford’s in-car connectivity system, AppLink.

“QQ is China’s largest social-media platform, with more than 840 million active user accounts. As the first in-car system compatible with Tencent’s Chelian app, SYNC is uniquely positioned to become part of the lives of Chinese consumers who want to stay in touch while on the road,” said Lawler.

Responding to the needs of drivers on China’s roads, who contend daily with traffic, pollution and difficult parking situations, Ford said it also will continue to implement advanced “eyes and ears” in its vehicles – cameras and sensors that help drivers steer through traffic, monitor traffic signs and stay safely in their lane. Features such as Active City Stop, Active Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping System on existing vehicles like the Focus, Everest and Mondeo already help to relieve some of the stress of city driving. Next-generation versions of these systems will make use of advanced sensors to make driving even safer and more convenient.

As it implements more driver-assistance technologies, Ford is working on the global development of fully autonomous vehicles, with the ultimate goal of creating an accessible and affordable solution for consumers in China and around the world.

Rapid urbanization and severe congestion are a fact of life in China: according to the United Nations, China had six cities with populations of over 10 million people in 2014, out of 28 such megacities worldwide. Together with changing consumer demographics and preferences, this makes China an ideal place to introduce innovations aimed at improving urban mobility – part of Ford’s global Smart Mobility plan to deliver the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and big data, according to the automaker.

These innovations go beyond vehicles, the automaker said. Ford’s partnerships with leading-edge companies – like a recently completed project with Dida, a Chinese carpooling service – are a key element of the company’s efforts to change the way the world moves with comprehensive transportation solutions.

Through the Dida “CityRide” project, drivers of Ford vehicles in the pilot cities of Beijing and Shanghai registered as users of Dida Pinche, a carpooling app, offering to carpool with passengers on their morning and evening commutes. During the month-long campaign, Ford and Dida offered 170,000 rides to people in the two pilot cities, with the rides adding up to a total of 2.56 million kilometers traveled – enough distance to circle the globe 64 times. Through the CityRide project, by carpooling, drivers and riders also helped cut carbon dioxide emissions by 700 metric tons, according to Ford.

For owners of vehicles, the challenges of navigating a megacity are not confined to the daily commute. Recognizing the challenge of finding conveniently located dealerships and service centers in large cities, Ford is launching a new way to provide quick vehicle service to its customers in China through its global Quick Lane service model. Ford’s commercial vehicle investment, Jiangling Motor Corporation, opened its first Quick Lane outlet in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, earlier this month. JMC will open 20 Quick Lane outlets across China by the end of next year. Ford’s joint venture partner Changan Ford is currently working on adapting the service for its customers as well. When launched, these new conveniently-located outlets will provide basic vehicle servicing such as oil changes and other routine maintenance, making vehicle ownership even easier for customers.

Ford said it is also making it easier for customers to experience the Ford brand and purchase a Ford vehicle by making it possible to buy a vehicle online. Through its store presence on, a leading online business-to-consumer sales platform, customers can learn more about Ford and order vehicles like the exciting Mustang GT and extraordinarily capable Ford Everest with a click. Between April and September 2015, Ford’s Tmall store has already attracted 4.8 million hits.

“We believe the customer experience should be as stress-free as possible,” said Joseph Liu, vice president, Marketing, Sales & Service, Ford Motor China. “That’s why we’re experimenting with new ways of interacting with customers in a digital age that gives you easier access to the best services available. Our partnerships with both our ever-expanding dealer networks and pioneering Internet and service companies are helping us deliver a smarter customer experience.”

Starting in 2016, Ford said it will expand consumers’ choice of fuel efficient vehicles in China with two new NEVs: the Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and the Ford Mondeo hybrid electric vehicle. Leveraging Ford’s global experience and expertise in NEV development, the two vehicles will help to reduce consumers’ fuel bills while reducing emissions in China’s crowded cities.

The C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid and Mondeo hybrid will complement Ford’s growing range of vehicles powered by Ford’s efficient EcoBoost petrol engines, which provide customers with the fuel economy they need and the power they want. More than 80 percent of Ford passenger cars in China are available with EcoBoost engines, up from 20 percent just five years ago, according to the company.

“Introducing a range of advanced technologies from gas to hybrid to plug-in hybrids by 2020, alongside our growing EcoBoost lineup shows how we will deliver on our promise to provide customers in China with the power of choice,” said Lawler. “This range is completely designed around our customers, giving them the fuel economy they need and the performance they want.

With the introduction of these advanced vehicles and technologies, by 2020 the average Ford customer is expected to reduce annual fuel consumption by more than 200 liters each year compared with 2015. That adds up to a saving of about RMB 1,400 (US $222) every year for each customer, and a reduction of more than 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually across China, according to Ford.