Welcome back to The Garage’s coverage of the Further With Ford Trend Conference. Day one was pretty much about just making it from my home state of Connecticut to Detroit and an exciting dinner at the incredible Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Day two was all business, and the reason Ford flew the most elite bloggers in the business to listen to what their message was.
Wolfing down some breakfast and making a run for the bus, it’s just a few minutes drive to the Ford Conference & Event Center, where Bill Ford is present to wish us all a good morning. I rush off to my first conference, entitled ‘Sculpting the Future’, which focused on car design, and easily the most engaging and riveting session I attended. Notable attendees were Chief Designer J Mays, Jay Ward from Pixar, and best selling author Seth Godin. When J Mays spoke to us last year, he was living in London, and has since relocated back to Michigan. Mays fascinates me every time I am fortunate enough to get to hear him speak. Back in the States, Mays explains that every drive to and from work is a design study. Sure, he is constantly aware of the cars people are driving, but Mays went further as to not just study the other cars on the road, but what the driver’s of that car are wearing. Mays’ mentality in observing this is to design the driver, then the car. Imagine the type of buyer you want, what their style, habits and tastes are, then design the car itself.
Seth Godin takes the mike, and blows my mind. Godin spoke of design with a sort of urgency to move forward and be edgier. To not appeal to everyone. Godin noted that the Mazda Miata is strictly a niche car, but it has mass appeal, which in turn has helped Mazda. Godin seemed to challenge the comfort level of the average car buyer, daring designers to produce something interesting. In an analogy, Godin explained that people from around the world will travel to New York City, and eat at a chain restaurant that they easily could have gone to in their own hometown. Why would you do that? The point is to explore, to find something new and different. Godin implored the panel if they had a checklist for what everyone wants in a car, to torch it. To focus on desire, and not making a car for everyone. In closing, he remarked “You cannot compromise your way to beautiful.” I wanted to stand on my chair and applaud the man.
Next up was ‘Returning To Your Senses’, a look at how technology has impacted our lives. A car used to be an isolation chamber. It was simply you, and the car. Nothing else. But this is 2013, and we are always connected, all of the time. With experts from MIT, Stanford and Google, the struggle with the modern driver is not just digital overload, but evaluating their digital health, if you will. Generation Y is turned off by cars, because they feel a car disconnects them from the smartphone that is permanently attached to their hand. Connectivity in cars is something several car companies are already offering in their cars, but is it safe?
Ford is working on that, under the mantra of creating ‘the car that cares.’ Bluetooth, in car texting, traffic and weather alerts are all technologies that are present in cars you can buy today. We are constantly bombarded by information. Ford is striving to create a non-distracting environment in the car. How? A seat that monitors your heart rate. Why? Let’s say you are merging into traffic on a highway, or changing lanes. Your heart rate increases under these stressful circumstances, and with this technology, Ford will divert incoming phone calls and text messages until the driver’s heart has returned to normal. Also in the works is continuous glucose monitoring for diabetics via a small device put on the driver that will warn if your blood sugar is too low. Another technology in the works are for people sensitive to allergies, where the car’s GPS can re-route you to a lower pollen count area to avoid an allergy attack. Constant connectivity are what new car buyers demand, and Ford is working on integrating that technology in ways to not distract, but to make safer drivers on the road.
We break for lunch, and the centerpiece is the radical Ford Atlas concept trunk, pictured at top. This room has some history to it, as the design mock-up for the first Ford Thunderbird was shown to Ford execs in the very same spot. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the designers of the Atlas concept. After lunch, I get a demonstration on 3-D Printing, which is fascinating technology. Designers can send a file from their desktop to a 3-D printer which will literally render a part that looks like the real thing, only it isn’t. What once took weeks now takes days, and the design process can move more quickly and efficiently.
Prior to flying out to Detroit, Ford had me complete a personality test from the experts at Myers-Briggs. While the result of the test did not surprise me, I seriously scratched my head at the suggestion an F-150 suited my personality type. Incorrect. Regardless of my personality, the Ford I would pick for my driveway is a Focus ST. While it was interesting to know that Ford is trying to understand the psychology of car buyers and how it affects their car buying decisions, the demonstration seemed boring. I moved on.
Next, we were off to one of Ford’s R&D facilities. About a year ago, Ford started using heat imaging to find and identify ‘holes’ in their cars. If you are not familiar with heat imaging, think of how police will use heat sensing equipment to find people. Ford takes that same technology by super heating the interior of a car (in this case, a Fusion), and with heat imaging they can find areas where there are, as they call them, ‘holes’, places that could possibly create wind noise at speed. Ford not only tests their cars, but benchmarks the competition as well. Riveting? No, but the point is the lengths that Ford is going to improve their cars.
We were also given a look at an impressive driving simulator. Imagine a dome large enough to contain a Ford Edge, supported by massive hydraulics to, well, you guessed it, simulate driving. The purpose? In a controlled environment, Ford is able to test drivers in a variety of situations. Are they sleep deprived? Busy on their cell phone? Are there other distractions that could affect not just their safety, but the safety of other drivers? Lane Keeping and Forward Collision safety technologies were developed here. If you thought full-scale driving simulators only existed in elite Formula 1 racing teams, you stand corrected.
Finally, it was time for our third and final trend session of the day, entitled ‘Greentopia’. The Further With Ford conference is for bloggers of all disciplines, not just gearheads like myself, and Ford had on hand plenty of bloggers who deal exclusively with the environment. What Ford was basically telling us is they are collaborating with companies outside of the car industry to find solutions to be a greener car company. Most interesting for me was panel member Scott A. Vitters from Coca Cola, who is general manager of the PlantBottle packaging program, which is absolute cutting edge technology in terms of recycling. Why is Coke at a Ford conference? Well, the technologies that Coca-Cola is discovering is not just about soda bottles, this is environmental technology that can be used in literally everything. And, I am proud to say that as manager of this program, Mr. Vitters graduated from my alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College, two years before I did.
With the conclusion of the working part of our day, the whole lot of us are exhausted and on information overload. The quietness on the bus drive back to the hotel speaks volumes. Thankfully, Ford affords us a couple hours to decompress. I have the pleasure of meeting Andy Baryer, host of Canada’s #1 Technology Lifestyle show at GetConnected, based out of Vancouver, who was lucky enough to get a one on one interview with Steve Wozniak.
Ford concluded the night with a dinner reception celebrating 50 years of the Ford Mustang. My hopes of seeing the 2014 Mustang were dashed, but we were entertained with great food, drink, a DJ, custom pinstriper artists from Detroit and a killer slot car race track. Putting in a few laps in a Ford GT-40 in LeMans in Gran Turismo 5 was icing on the cake.
With the party dying down, it was off to the quiet of my hotel room, where I watched in silence planes taking off and landing. A call home to my wife and son, I had little trouble catching zz’s as I knew I was in for another busy day tomorrow.