Ford’s New Consumer Takes Center Stage in NYC Trends Tour

Driverless car, go park, Ford
Driverless car | Source: Ford

How many F-150s and Fusions can Ford Motor Company sell? The number topped 1.8 million vehicles between those nameplates alone in 2015, and it’s hard to see the needle moving much either way in the next few years.

On the other hand, broad changes in millennials’ lifestyles has opened up new opportunities for long-established auto companies, and a recent tour through New York City offered a glimpse into the next generation of Ford consumers — the ones more likely to Uber to work and car-share on a weekend trip than finance a vehicle with a blue oval emblem.

Ford futurist Sheryl Connelly gave a group of lifestyle bloggers and tech journalists an up-close look at three different trends pulling consumers in varying directions. The first stop was Carmel Place, Manhattan’s first micro-apartment building, offering pre-fab habitations that range from 260 to 360 square feet. Needless to say, there was no garage for an Explorer on site, but the building provided multiple communal spaces to counteract the implied solitude of the lifestyle.

micro apartment
Micro apartments | Source: nARCHITECTS

The tour continued with a “gong bath,” which is a meditation session with live (gong-heavy) music by Sacred Sound Tribe in an East Village space. This experience tied in with Connelly’s emphasis on “mindfulness going mainstream,” a trend that makes Ford think deeply about the experience of car interiors as they become de facto sanctuaries for commuters.

Finally, we wound up at Blue Hill near Washington Square Park, where chefs prepared lunch for the group using food products typically discarded during meal preparations. A salad of vegetable and fruit scraps preceded a “burger” made from discarded pulp from fruit used to make smoothies at local juice bars. Here, we had a look at the sustainability efforts corporations must embrace to stay relevant with today’s consumers, especially in global markets.

Electric bikes, ford
Electric bikes | Source: Ford

Ford has experimented with the use of plant-based plastics, at one point partnering with Heinz to see if tomato skins could be used to make wiring brackets and interior elements of a vehicle (e.g., a change cup). Soy, wheat, and recycled cottons are other products currently going into the company’s vehicles as replacements for synthetics that require more energy to produce.

By the time you get to repurposed fruit skins and vegetable scraps, it may feel like a long way from your buddy’s pickup truck — about as far as a micro apartment is from your aunt’s sprawling home in the suburbs. Ford’s mobility services aim to meet the needs of consumers who may not have the opportunity to own a car while they live and work in a big city (or attend university there). The increasingly urban population suggests the number in that group will continue growing.

Eventually, the car may be able to drive you to work rather than vice versa. Ken Washington, Ford’s vice president of research and engineering, told journalists in an event leading up the New York Auto Show that he sees fully autonomous (i.e., Level 4) vehicles reaching consumers by 2020.

The car-sharing, ride-sharing, parking assistance, and other services the automaker is rolling out as FordPass in the coming months will start delineating the path to greater mobility for the modern consumer, whether or not ownership is part of the picture. As other automakers and tech companies come out with their own competing services, the race to a comprehensive solution is in full swing.

Ford Motor Company provided transportation and meals so The Cheat Sheet could bring this first-person report to readers.

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY