Further With Ford 2013 Trend Conference: Day One

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For the second year in a row, The Garage was invited to be the guest of Ford Motor Company for the annual ‘Further With Ford’ Trend Conference. On a blistering Monday morning in late June, I dropped off my son for his first day of summer camp, and headed off for the airport in my test car of the week, ironically the new Ford Escape Titanium. The Escape whisked me to Bradley International Airport just north of Hartford in cool, calm comfort. I was excited, and eager to see and hear what insights Ford would reveal to how they are approaching the future of the car business.

It turns out I would have more time to ponder this than planned, thanks to numerous flight delays. Finally arriving in Detroit, I essentially threw my suitcase into my hotel room and booked it to the bus. To kick off the conference, Ford was hosting dinner for us at The Henry Ford, possibly one of the most remarkable museums I have ever visited. There is something for everyone. The limo JFK was assassinated in? It’s here. Parked in front of it is the limo Ronald Reagan was pushed into after he was shot. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what the museum has to offer.

It was almost time to get down to business, and as I sat down at a table, none other than Ford CEO Alan Mulally starts introducing himself to some of the Ford execs seated near me. Next thing I know a hand is extended to me, I look up, and he says “Hi, I’m Alan, nice to meet you.” I stood up, introduced myself, and he asked what The Garage was about. I told him, and mentioned I had just had the Fusion, C-Max and currently the Escape. Mulally wasted no time, and immediately asked me my impression of the Fusion. I told him, and when I was finished, he said good-bye, walked up to the stage to greet the audience, and introduced Bill Ford, great grandson of Henry Ford.

Bill Ford is widely known for being pro-environment. In speaking to us, Ford emphasized his pride in the fact that over the course of the past seven years Ford has moved from being one of the worst car companies in terms of fuel economy to one of the best. Ford seemed excited to be offering EV’s (electric vehicles), but conceded it will be a slow build-up, as consumers deal with range anxiety, and spotty charging station locations. Ford perceives the Federal government’s lack of a national energy plan and proper infrastructure as hindrances to the success of making EV’s a success in America.

Finally, Ford brought up the company’s relationship with ZipCar. For those not familiar, ZipCar is a car sharing service operating out of major US and UK cities, as well as universities. Ford, as The Garage learned last year, is closely monitoring the changing car habits of Generation Y. This generation is slower to get a driver’s license, leaving the suburbs for the city, and postponing new car purchases moreso than any generation before. But let’s face it, sometimes you simply need a car. Bill Ford rationalized the relationship with ZipCar very simply. Eventually, members of Generation Y will need to buy a new car. If they had a good experience driving a Ford from ZipCar, they will be that much more inclined to buy a Ford for themselves. Simple, but very smart.

If Bill Ford is a member of automotive family royalty, our next speaker helped to define the world we live and work in today. Alan Mulally introduces Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer. Dressed in black head to toe with the exception of a pair of funky blue sneakers, 250 hand-picked bloggers sit in stunned silence in front of the man many simply call ‘Woz’.  I realize I am dating myself, but I have used Apple Computers since the Apple II came out, and before me is the man who helped make it. Amazingly, Woz acts like a regular guy, albeit a brilliant one. A little goofy, completely down to earth, listening to this man was mesmerizing and truly unforgettable. Wozniak seemed enthusiastic about EV’s, going so far as comparing it to Apple’s progression from floppy disks as a means of propulsion to computers than run themselves with internalized software. Without the floppy disk, the computer could not do anything. And to read the floppy disk, you needed mechanical parts that make noise and can break. Wozniak sees the advent of the EV in exactly the same light. For sure, I pray at the alter of the internal combustion engine, but I’m a car nut. But that’s old fashioned. Steve Wozniak is an innovator, and to him the EV is simply The Next Step for the automobile. I found it a profoundly interesting observation and comparison. I got the feeling Woz was ready and willing to talk for another hour but I could tell his handlers were getting antsy and rushing him to finish up.

Following a delicious dinner seated next to one of the curators of the museum, a British ex-pat who came to Dearborn, I had the pleasure of walking around the museum, taking in its vast auto collection of everything from a Dodge Omni, VW Microbus to a genuine Ford GT-40 Le Mans race car to a Bugatti. Enormous locomotives, a full replica of a 1960′s Howard Johnson’s hotel room. The bus Rosa Parks entered where she decided she would not sit in the back seat. It’s all there. I’d need at least a day, but I did my best with a couple hours.

Full and tired from a long day of traveling and an exhilarating night the The Henry Ford, we filed on to the bus back to our hotel in relative silence. I am back in my hotel room just in time to phone my wife and very tired seven year old son to say goodnight. My room is right at the airport, and thankfully heavily soundproofed, as I watch planes taxi in silence. Restless, I head to DEMA Lounge, grab a USA Today, local brew Crooked Tree IPA and a leather chair while I take in the indoor pond and towering bamboo trees. I’ve been on the go for fourteen hours, and finally get to take a breath and relax. But that 6:45am wake up is coming, and I know I have a very busy day ahead. Time for bed. Stay tuned for my coverage of Day Two of Further With Ford!

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