We’re on our third and final day of the Further With Ford Trend Conference, and back on the bus at 7:30 am, this time for some behind the wheel experience. We would be divided into two groups. One would drive a Ford Escape into Detroit to visit a few points of interest at how the city is revitalizing. As an architecture and amateur photography fan, I was keeping my fingers crossed I would be in this group, but alas, I was not. Instead, I was to drive a Ford F-150 into Detroit with a couple sheets of plywood for a Habitat for Humanity project. I was told I would experience the potential of the F-150, but for crying out loud I could have strapped the same plywood to the roof of my Porsche 911. It quickly dawned on me and my passengers that this was a dog and pony PR show. That said, the F-150, the best selling vehicle in the US, and amazingly, a vehicle I have never driven, proved to be easy and comfortable to drive.
My trip to Detroit happened a couple weeks before the city declared bankruptcy, and I can honestly tell you, it is no joke. Dearborn, where Ford is located is dominated with the sprawling, low level campus of Ford’s offices, the immaculate Henry Ford museum, and modest, but tidy, well kept homes. Drive twenty minutes into Detroit, and it is an entirely different world. It is perhaps the most perplexing city I have ever visited. I’ve been a guest of Ford at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, a fantastic stadium. I’ve met with our Founding Editor Gary Grant at GM’s Ren Cen for drinks, and it is a place that could easily fit in New York City. But exiting the highway in our F-150, it nearly takes your breath away at the devastation this city has suffered. Abandoned, boarded up homes outnumber occupied properties. It is a virtual wasteland. As a person, a car journalist, it is tough to grapple that this is the epicenter of the Detroit Three, some of the most powerful car companies in the world. You would never know it by driving around Detroit. The Motor City. It’s a crying shame.
We dropped off our plywood to volunteers of Habitat for Humanity, who were all smiles, and I left feeling a little better having helped, and hearing how many homes have been built or rehabilitated in Detroit. These people face what to me seems an insurmountable challenge, yet they are tackling it head on. If you can put aside any animosity about politics and bail outs, you can head over to www.habitat.org to make a donation to help a city that is in desperate need.
We drive back to Dearborn, and then we wait. And wait. It seems most of us completed our tasks much quicker than the planners at Ford had anticipated. And from experience, I know how crashes at car events catch like wild fire on the internet, two F-150′s collided just getting out of the lot. I was told no one but their ego’s were hurt. And we continued to wait. And wait. Finally, we were back on the bus, headed towards Ford’s proving grounds. Surrounded by high brick walls and security fences, this was like entering the Promised Land for me.
Our guide is a seasoned Ford test driver. This facility is no joke. It has what looks to be a flight tower directing traffic. An astute passenger spots a Hyundai Genesis sedan going flat out, and questions the test driver about it. His response? “We test everything here.” My best guess is they are benchmarking the Genesis against the Lincoln MKZ or MKS. Once in, our first task is to take a Ford Fusion Hybrid around the track, and hyper-mile it. The Fusion will grade you on how well you brake and maximize fuel economy. I thought I was doing alright, getting 100% ratings at a couple of corners, until my co-driver did the same course and nailed it 100% at all points. In my defense, I drove first, so he could see firsthand what to do.
Next was sort of a silly exercise where we colored in a Ford Focus any way we liked, with the promise we would eventually get a handbag with our creation. I did my Focus in The Garage livery. This was a time consuming activity, and we were running out of time. Next, I stood in line for a timed autocross event with a Ford Fiesta. The goal was to complete the course in 40 seconds. Too hot or too slow, you lose. Sadly, with time mismanaged so badly, while standing in line for a ride, I was told we had to head back for lunch. I’m not bitter about it, since I’ve spent a week with a Fiesta, but the majority of bloggers here are not car journalists, and missed out on how nimble the Fiesta is.
We essentially wolfed down our lunches, and it was back to the Westin, adjacent to the Detroit airport. I grabbed my luggage, and personally thanked Tony McCloud, who does a miraculous job of coordinating flight and lodging plans for 200 people for this event. I am exhausted, but it has been an informative and exciting time, as always, and I am happy to relay my experiences to you.
I can finally catch my breath once I am in the terminal. No trouble boarding my Delta flight home, but then we are stuck. The captain tells us flight traffic over Cincinatti Ohio is too congested for us to fly over. We can sit, or wait to hear if we can be diverted over Toronto. So, we sit. After a good wait, we are off, and we land back at Bradley Airport, outside of Hartford, CT. At this point, Bradley is mostly empty, and I haul myself back to my Ford Escape Titanium that awaits me in the parking garage, and make my way back home.
I would like to thank Ford for their hospitality, and with any luck, The Garage will be able to report to you the 2014 Further With Ford Trends Conference. Thanks for reading!
*Editors Note: Ford Motor Company provided flight, lodging and food, but I was not financially compensated for my participation in this event.