A stripped down, wired up car skeleton
When offered the chance to fly out to Chicago a day early, I jumped. Part of it - okay maybe a large part of it - was because my kids were fighting and this offer from Ford would mean an additional night alone at a hotel. The other part was because I thought it would be exciting as I pictured myself wearing a race car driver's helmet and mic (to communicate with my pit crew, of course), barreling brand new Ford cars around an empty raceway. So that did not happen, but the day was much more informative than I had imagined. Ford managed to do something right where most companies stumble and fail: they pitched their products to women in a way that was intellectually engaging and encouraged open dialogue between the company and consumers.
Ford talked to us about innovations and alterations that are in response
to what the modern consumer wants. Sustainability was a big part of
this. Ford is using more sustainable materials, such as soy-based foam
seat cushions, different soy flour and soy meal (soy bean byproducts)
to make rubberized parts like floor mats and also considering hemp. These
materials would be replacing ones traditionally made with petroleum
products. While hemp
parts would make the car much lighter - therefore more fuel efficient -
U.S. growing prohibitions make supply a serious challenge.
We were shown newer technologies like computer-assisted parallel parking (seriously amazing), front looking radar with adaptive cruise control (Ford is confident their version is better than the others on the market, making the adaptivity so seamless that the driver may not be aware that it is happening), collision warnings, rear radar for blind spot assistance, cross traffic alerts (making it great for pulling out of blind parking spaces). The technological improvements are great, not just for moms distracted by a loud car full of kids, but for older people too. When Ford introduced a capless fuel tank in some models, the positive feedback was better than expected. Not only is it one fewer thing to lose or fiddle with, it's a big help for those with arthritis who may have trouble opening a standard fuel cap.
Some changes didn't appeal to me, like having engine sound piped into the car. I don't need people on the street to be impressed by the perceived power of my car; I just want a solid, reliable, safe car.
Another thing was the "gaming" aspect of the hybrids, which includes a vine on the control panel where leaves grow as the car's efficiency increases. Leaves grew as I used the brakes, but then slowly disappeared as I used the gas, which brought out my competitive side and unfortunately I became a little more preoccupied with growing leaves than with paying attention to the road. However, this could be one of those features that initially are interesting, but fade into the background after using the car for awhile.
Ford brought out some of its top female executives and researchers to interact with us, a move that I doubt was coincidental. Still, it was fabulous to hear from the female employees responsible for some of these innovations. Also great was during unscripted times when the women talked about working for Ford and working in a male-dominated environment. They were upbeat and positive, several told us about family-friendly policies. For instance, a few of the women did not work five days a week. Ford allowed them to scale back their work time to have more time at home with their children. (And that had nothing to do with the recent economic downturn.)
We got a factory tour to show us how cars were made (my son would have loved this). Then finally the day ended with Ford asking for suggested improvements to their cars and not only did it feel like they were listening, but some really good suggestions were made. This was not the condescending cup holder talk normally given to women. One blogger suggested a control indicating there was someone in the back seat - a body heat sensor, possibly - to help avoid tragedies where young children are forgotten in the backseat.
This tag was explained as a interior trunk opener, in case you get "stuck" in the trunk. I guess they didn't want to say "in case you are kidnapped by a psycho-killer," but that's what they meant. Even the little figure is running for its life.
The day was excellent. When we next buy new cars, I can't say that we
would certainly buy Ford, but after this experience, we would give
their cars serious consideration. I would not have said that before
There was one disappointment. The talk of commitment to sustainability was undercut by this:
One of the garbage cans after lunch. There was no recycling. Ford, get
with the recycling program. Not just cans and plastic at lunch, but
cardboard and other potential recyclables in your factory. Don't miss
another cultural shift.
(Disclaimer: Ford paid for one night in a hotel in order for me to attend this event. Also, apologies for the iPhone photo quality.)