Ford Motor Company isn’t a car company anymore. After experiencing my first Ford Trends Conference in San Francisco, the takeaway is clear: Ford doesn’t drive innovation with the sole goal of moving more cars, but instead, the brand is focused on moving more people in more ways.
The 5th annual 2015 Ford Trends Conference recently took place in sunny San Francisco and welcomed media from all over the globe. Hosted at Pier 27 by the bay, the conference kicked off with a keynote by Ford CEO Mark Fields. He outlined the four mega-trends Ford is addressing with its innovation efforts: urbanization, global middle class growth, air quality and changing consumer attitudes. With these global mega-trends, comes a range of challenges. How do transportation patterns change when more and more people are living in cities? What does a doubling of the global middle class by 2030 mean for the sustainability of single-occupancy car trips? Add on an increased awareness of air quality among consumers who are also re-envisioning the way they move around and you’ve got a global transportation landscape very different than the one Henry Ford saw when he built Ford over a century ago.
Ford conducted 25 global experiments on a range of ideas including vehicle-integrated e-bikes, dynamic shuttles, data-driven insurance, parking spotters, car swaps and P2P car sharing. The results of these experiments go a long way in helping Ford figure out exactly how it can be a leader in this new age of transportation.
To show us specifically what Ford’s doing to answer these questions, we were invited to the Ford labs in Palo Alto, California. In an open house style event, we drifted through a range of installations and exhibits. We witnessed working prototypes of three new Ford e-bikes that actually interact with Ford vehicles to give drivers more dynamic transportation route options. Debbie Mielewski, Sr. Technical Leader, Materials Sustainability showed us the results of almost a decade of research into sustainable materials now being used to create car parts formerly reliant on petroleum products, but now made out of materials such as soy, tomato waste, wheat straw and corn. I got to experience a test drive in Ford’s drive simulator, where they test new autonomous driving features in life-like driving scenarios. The team also unveiled Ford’s new Sync-3 in-car interface with the capacity to communicate with Nest to do things like match your home’s temperature to your car’s temperature. Across the board, this was much more than a traditional car model unveiling and revealed just how invested Ford is in being a leader in mobility, sustainability and innovation.
Imagine the Ford of the future as one that connects you with a network of other Ford drivers to create more multi-rider trips. Imagine your Ford vehicle communicating seamlessly with your home and devices. Imagine owning a car that actually finds parking spots for you. Further, imagine getting out of your car at your destination and someone else remotely parking your car for you. Imagine a car built of plant-based or 3D printed parts. Imagine a Ford e-bike that progressively assists you as you reach work so you’re not exhausted or sweaty when you walk in. Imagine a Ford-app that takes you across several modes of transportation from your front door to your destination. This is the future of Ford and while few of these innovations will be available right away, we’ve now got a glimpse at how Ford is thinking about the whole picture.