Safety first. Geared up for a wind tunnel presentation at Ford’s Design Lab.
In June I attended “Go Further With Ford,” a 3-day presentation at the auto maker’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. Over 250 journalists, bloggers, and other media gathered to get an inside look at the philosophies and practices that Ford, with its technology partners, will be implementing into its cars in the near future. In short, Ford aims to make cars that will help increasingly busy people multitask while they are driving in our increasingly crowded world. In style.
Design Trends of the Near Future
Ford executives joined with industry leaders and notables to present four distinct “trend tracks”: Design, Urbanization, Streamline and Simplify, and Eco-psychology. Each session started with a speech or panel that had a wide focus on the topic at hand, and then the groups were divided into smaller bunches so that we could see up close and in some cases, pretty personal, the actual technologies that Ford is developing to put these theories into practice.
I’ll admit that as a 40-year-old mom who lives on the outskirts of Los Angeles, I view cars as tools to help me get from point A to point B, safely and hopefully with room for all of my family-related gear. The broader design presentations intimidated me at first, with all their acronyms and discussion of things like “democratization of design” and “natural user experience” and “consumer choice,” and so on. But when each session moved to the hands-on demonstrations or more in-depth talks, that’s when my ears perked up and I started tweeting up a storm. (Check the hashtag #gofurther for hundreds of updates, blog posts, and instagram photos from the attendees.)
Streamline and Simplify
I was most interested in the Streamline and Simplify session, because even though the discussion started out on high-level philosophy of customer needs and experience, the experts, John Hendricks of Microsoft and Gary Clayton of Nuance (the company behind Ford’s voice-activated SYNC feature), were speaking my language. The language of multi-tasking. While Ford’s mantra is all about safety – “Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel” – the company knows that people are going to do other things while they are driving, so they strive to make those tasks as safe as possible. A hands-on demo after the panel talk featured the SYNC console, which will someday allow me to tweet with my voice, a feature I have been dreaming of since 2008.
It’s magic. Or some serious engineering that makes it look like magic.
Ford actually lends these SYNC console packages to developers so that they can make their apps work in a Ford vehicle. So far, apps like Pandora, my favorite music app, Scout, a navigation app that recommends local businesses as you drive near them, and Inrix, a traffic tool, are already operational on many Ford models.
There was also some star power on hand at Ford that day. Actor Adrian Grenier (from HBO’s “Entourage” joined in the eco-psychology panel to show off the new series he co-produced, “The Big SHFT” about gamechangers in eco-responsible businesses. And “Project Runway” winner Christian Siriano sat on the design panel, where industry experts discussed the concept of emerging trends before the media guests went on to watch cool simulation demos.
Put a Gear on It
The presentation day was long and packed with information. We learned about urbanization and Ford’s commitment to global human rights and that they partnered with Zipcar to provide car-sharing services at American universities and the My Key feature that will disable texting and speeding if your teen is driving the car. We saw samples of the sustainable materials that are incorporated into Ford vehicles – soybeans, coconut fibers, even recycled dollar bills are among them.
We were bussed from Ford’s conference center to various locations on the campus, including super-secret design labs. And after all that, we were given a brief hour of downtime to shift gears (pun intended) and head out for the night’s entertainment, which centered on the surprise fifth trend: DIY.
TechShop Detroit is a “do-it-yourself” lab with locations throughout North America where anyone can come in and use “the tools of the industrial revolution” to create things. Normally, people join TechShop for a monthly fee and have unlimited access to its sewing machines, silk screening press, chipmakers, forging tools, electronics workshop, etc., or they take classes to learn how to use all of these resources. But on this night, the 250 media professionals were first greeted by Ford CEO Alan Mullaley, and then set loose in the building to try their hands at jewelry-making or sandblasted glassware design, or video production, among other choices.
After all that activity, guests were treated to a private concert by local band Blind Spot (great play on words with that band name, given the topic of the day) and a venue ringed with gourmet dessert-makers.
Mom’s First Mustang
The best part of the event was saved for last: driving. On the third day of Go Further With Ford, all guests were invited to participate in “Trends at the Track,” a series of six different challenges on Ford’s test track that allowed us to experience what we learned in the presentations from inside Ford’s vehicles. Anyone who completed all six tasks – proof was a special stamp on a fancy “passport” handed out to us at breakfast – was entered into a drawing during lunch. (I won a Ford branded cooler and a stadium blanket. Bonus!)
The challenges were, in order of coolness:
- driving a standard-shift 2013 Mustang on a track that allowed for heavy acceleration
- mere survival of the off-road track in a F-150 Raptor that included some airborne time
- a relay race utilizing Ford’s enhanced technology including SYNC activated phone calls, and the unnerving features park-assist and hands-free liftgate on the 2013 Ford Escape
- driving a Ford Interceptor on a challenge track
- a race against time in a Ford Escape
- a test drive of the all-electric Ford Fusion
Sure, I’m a suburban mom, but I’m a person first, and what person doesn’t love feeling the power of a 420-horsepower engine under her as she presses the gas pedal of a Mustang GT to the floor? While that vehicle isn’t practical for my real life, I enjoyed the experience. But it was the mini-SUV Ford Escape, which I was challenged to drive around a specific track in under 38 seconds, that felt like a good match for me. It was small enough that I felt comfortable and in control, with plenty of room inside for my family and a guest or two and all their stuff, plus it had the nifty high-tech console that I can imagine using to handle other parts of my busy life while sitting in traffic on the 101.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t attending the event to see which car to buy next. But I am, in fact, thinking of buying a new car in the next few years, and I am someone who gleefully multi-tasks and likes pretty things. While there was a lot of talk about the “millennial” demographic – people ages 25-35 who will be buying the most new cars in the next few years – it’s nice to know Ford will have products that will be relevant to me, too.
All photos by me except green Mustang photo – by Shane Shirley-Smith of environmentalbooty.com. A portion of this article previously appeared on AskPatty.com.