After being a guest of Ford for the global reveal of the new 2013 Ford Fusion in Detroit this year, Ford called on The Garage again to attend a two-day forum, ‘Go Further with Ford’. Along with over 250 bloggers covering auto, fashion, environment, parenting, marketing and a myriad of other subjects, we all descended upon Dearborn, Michigan, where we arrived for dinner at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions and host to Super Bowl XL. We were treated to a speech from none other than Bill Ford, great grandson of Henry Ford. Known for being an ‘industrial environmentalist’, Mr. Ford’s concerns and thoughts on the environment and future of the car would underscore what our next two days would reveal to us.
I had the opportunity to kick a ten yard field goal on Ford Field, and failed miserably. Check the gallery below for a pic of Ford social media chief Scott Monty kick a three-pointer, wearing a suit and dress shoes, no less.
Back to business the next day, we would be taken to four different forums, covering distinct subjects. The first for me was the Age of Accessible Design, and easily my favorite. Faced with a panel of people completely immersed in design, yet in worlds not related to cars, with one exception. Ford’s chief designer, J Mays was on hand, as well as Project Runway winner Christian Siriano. In addition, an architect and furniture designer were there to offer their point of view.
The discussion was riveting, and Mr. Siriano was entertaining and informative, but offered a different view from automotive design. Mr. Siriano can change trends instantly with his fashion design. With cars, as J Mays pointed out, it is completely different. Instead of next week, Mays is working on designing cars we won’t see until five years from now. J Mays was quite candid, emphasizing that each new car design is essentially a multi-million dollar gamble. You don’t often think of it from that angle, but it is absolutely true. But the most telling piece of info I got out of the forum was this. J Mays actually spends most of this time in the UK. Mays spoke about the ‘Europeanization of America’ in terms of design. That large cars are wasteful and status driven. In other words, don’t expect another mammoth Ford Excursion super-size SUV. Instead, Mays sees an America that is concerned about fuel cost and efficiency, which have driven the European car market for decades. It is now upon us.
Another forum focused on Eco Psychology. This is the motivation of Bill Ford, and he is intensely focused on being green, even if Ford’s board of directors are intent on only profits. To that end, Ford is doing extensive research on using natural and organic materials in building their cars. At the same time, Ford is adamant in letting the customer decide, not dictate their options. Be it gas, gas-hybrid, or EV, Ford is allowing the customer to make the choice.
Ford is also keenly aware of the shift in car buyer’s mentality. As a member of Generation X, mine is the last generation where getting a license to drive was viewed as a rite of passage, as a means to see something greater than what was in the confines of my hometown. Generation Y, or Millenials, see the world far differently from me and generations prior. They are in no hurry to get a license. The internet satiates their need for exploration. They gravitate to urban centers where everything they need is within walking distance. Having graduated to an unstable economy, Gen Y is driven to access to local amenities and superior public transit rather than a car. Still, a car is needed, which explains Ford’s relationship with Zipcar, a company that offers rental cars in major American cities by the day our hour.
What was most telling was Ford telling us Generation Y’s feeling disconnected while on the road-unable to text or web surf. While that sounds pretty pathetic to me, I suppose that is the new reality. Which brings me to the final forum of the day, focusing on technology. Ford, in conjunction with Microsoft has come under some fire about its MyTouch infotainment package, but strides seem to have been made to improve it. Ford seems to recognize that too much tech can overwhelm or confuse a driver. It intrigued me that Ford is currently developing software that reads from the steering wheel a driver’s heart rate and sweat to decide if it is not a good time to relay a text message or other info. It is not currently available, but it is cutting edge technology.
Personally, it was a thrill to hear Bill Ford tell all of us we were invited to Dearborn because we were the elite bloggers in our respective fields. As East Coast Editor for The Garage, I sincerely hope you enjoy and are informed by the material we provide here. for you. Our busy day was capped off with a reception at Tech Shop Detroit, followed by a live concert by indie rock/folk band Blind Pilot.
*Editor’s Note: Ford Motor Company paid for my travel expenses and accommodations, but I was not compensated by Ford monetarily.