Compared to the day before, waking up at 8:00am was a luxury! While media days continued at Cobo Hall, we would be spending the morning inside Ford. After meeting several of the fellow bloggers invited by Ford, all had told me they had never been to an auto show before. Having met bloggers who focus on car design, art, architecture, tech, and the environment, this is the day they were waiting for.
Bags packed, and finally in casual dress, I hopped the bus to Ford’s design studio. A plain, sprawling two story brick building, from the outside it looks like 1950’s corporate America, with no hint of the innovation going on inside its doors. We’re escorted into a large circular showroom, with breakfast on hand. I’m glancing around, and again, I’m thinking how dated this all looks. I later learn there is a reason for that. Since the 1950’s, this is the room Ford execs have been shown prototypes, concept cars from its design team. I am seated where the original 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang was first seen by Ford management, and the room is the same then as it is in 2012. A lesson in respect is learned, dear readers.
The program kicks off an “Innovation through Design” panel discussion. With all due respect to Ford, it was an utter disaster. For over half an hour I listened to topics that beared no relationship to anything going on at Ford, innovation or design. I just sat and suffered through a few guys blowing hot air, generally feeling how impressed they were with their intellectuality. While pontificating about nothing in particular, the audience duly responded by closing their eyes, working their iPads or smartphones.
With the painful panel discussion now behind us, I’m back on the bus to a nearby Ford laboratory. As a car journalist who has a regular rotation of new cars on a constant basis, I confess I give little thought as to what work and research actually goes in to designing a car-I just review the final product. And for those of you out there who still think American automakers are sloppy and lazy, take note. Ford first ushers us to a laboratory that serves one sole function: measuring how you get into a car. Ford has constructed an easily configurable steel cage to replicate how one would enter and exit any sort of car or truck it builds, taking into consideration door size, steering wheel position, and seating. Ford then uses several people of all body sizes who are hooked up to a computer to monitor their movements, and are asked about how easy or difficult it was to get in or out of the car. If that isn’t attention to detail, then I don’t know what is.
Next, we’re shown a different lab, pictured above. This is where people test current Ford technologies such as Sync and MyTouch, where you drive in a virtual world. While voice command for changing songs, making calls or navigation are available now, Ford let us in that they are testing expanding on voice commands to include seating adjustments. Other notable stops were Ford’s use of sustainable materials and Ford’s Sync technology in action.
But what I was hankering for was back at Ford’s world headquarters design studios. And I was granted access to what no one else can see. I enter the clay studio, and there is a silver colored, full-size clay model of the Ford Mondeo. Surrounding the Modeo are tables of smaller clay models. On the walls, artists renderings of concept cars these craftsmen carefully sculpt. And in the corner, my jaw drops. It is a clay model of the next Ford Mustang. I’m able to chisel and scrape as I wish, but more than anything, I am stunned I am getting a firsthand hint at where Ford is taking the Mustang design. And, I am sorry folks, but cameras were banned, and I cannot tell you any detail of what I saw.
If clay modeling is considered old-fashioned, what lay in store for us next will convince you Ford is on the cutting edge of design. What you see above is akin to a small movie theater, but in 1080p HD. The tech Ford has boggles the mind. With no photos involved, Ford showed us a last generation Fusion, fully computerized. Ford had the ability to set this car in any setting, say, in Las Vegas, or the woods, and see how light reflects off the car in any angle. Dealers can see how the car will look in the showroom.
I met with an interior designer. Seated at a Dell with a 42″ HD monitor, on the fly he could change interior colors on whim-seat color, seat material, wood grain finish. The possibilities were endless. Another programmer had software solely meant to view how the new Fusion looked while driving at different speeds and angles. Again, the investment Ford has made in technology blew my mind.
But, all good things must come to an and. We were escorted back to the room we started off in, and treated to lunch. Enjoying one last meal with my new daddy blogger friends, I enjoyed Chilean sea bass with none other than J Mays, Chief Creative Designer of Ford as a speaker. His speech was brief, and took few questions, but he’s rightfully proud of the new Fusion, and has indicated the focus is now on restoring Lincoln to its former glory, an effort he feels will take at least a decade. On parting with us, J Mays remarked on how positive us bloggers were, unlike the ‘cynical auto press’. Guess he didn’t know there was an auto journo in the crowd.
And that was basically it. Ford herded us onto buses straight to the Detroit airport. I had a couple hours to kill, and I observed film crews and other auto journos make there way back home. Once boarded on my flight, we were stuck on the tarmac for a half hour. Finally underway, our flight was pleasant. I arrived back in Bradley International, which was a ghost town save for a delayed flight to Baltimore. Sitting in the parking garage was my trusty Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited, ready to whisk me back home to my family.