For the past six years, Ford Motor Company has conducted a series of seminars and insightful hands-on experiences at its Dearborn, Michigan headquarters every year. Commonly referred to as Further With Ford, this event gives some of the greatest minds in the industry room to discuss mobility, sustainability, technology, and social responsibility. It’s like a TED Talks conference that’s been heavily laced with automotive insights, and then finished off with some track time and a splash of behind-the-scenes stuff.
The two-day series highlights some of Ford’s latest groundbreaking ventures, and offers a candid look at humanity and the issues we face as both consumers and stewards. The world is growing more connected and tech-oriented by the day, and is getting dangerously close to a tipping point, where overpopulation problems and climate concerns could send humanity into free-fall. After 113 years, Ford has seen firsthand how the automotive revolution and then the tech boom changed both transportation practices and the environment. While none of us know what tomorrow might bring, the company that brought you the assembly line has a lot of ideas to make it more manageable.
This year’s guest speakers included people like the Co-CEO of Whole Foods, Walter Robb, behavioral economic Duke professor Dan Ariely, and Yahoo Finance’s editor in chief Andy Serwer. Everything from vehicular buying preferences and autonomous safety concerns to environmental stewardship and turbo technology were discussed, as Ford attempted to both advise and expand its own grasp on where the world is going and how to help it go even further.
But there’s way more to the whole Ford Trends event than the importance of not idling at a red light for too long or how poor buying decisions influence supply chains in India. Regardless of whether you like to drive a car with a manual gearbox, or prefer being chauffeured around in an autonomous electric automobile, the fact is that America’s infrastructure needs cars to get the masses to and from the office every day, and will continue to do so for decades to come. Here are seven key takeaways we were able to garner from this year’s Further With Ford seminar, many of which will surely change the future of mobility and life as we know it.
1. Ford is way greener than you think
This is something that will likely surprise a lot of people, because while green design and engineering are nothing new, the materials Ford is utilizing in its automobiles go well beyond the norm. Everything from soy beans and shredded dollar bills that have been pulled out of circulation to reclaimed wood cellulose and rice hulls that replace fiberglass fibers are making their way into Ford cars nowadays. Even the sound-deadening in the door panels contains re-purposed blue jean and T-shirt shreds, and coconut shells are utilized to form plastics, as the Blue Oval continues to take a “life cycle approach” to automotive engineering.
The Detroit-based automaker has gotten so into recycling that it’s now utilizing around 10 pairs of jeans and up to 30 T-shirts in each vehicle it builds, with plastic bottles being repurposed as carpets and wheel liners, and captured CO2 forming seat foams. According to Ford, any given modern day vehicle in its lineup contains anywhere between 20-25% post-consumer recycled materials, thus making it one of the greenest automobile manufacturers on the planet.
2. Electric automobiles and going off the grid
One of the final and perhaps most important things Ford is doing to reshape the future of mobility is its invested interest in taking plug-in electric options, making them more environmentally friendly, and then promoting the sharing of these machines. Urban landscapes are changing just as rapidly as the people that inhabit them, and Ford is prepared to do what it takes to offer electric solutions to societies that value electric alternatives and accountability just as much as they do affordability and convenience. One of the big things that executive company chairman Bill Ford touched upon (if all but too briefly) was Ford’s interest in alternative power options and getting off the grid.
Approaching the issue of coal head-on, and all of the damage it does to our environment and our lungs, is a major move for any automaker looking to keep a foothold in the plug-in game. Most people don’t think about where their power comes from when they are plugging in their vehicle in at night, and the amount of coal that gets incinerated when entire neighborhoods charge up every evening. Ford may not be offering a solar panel set with every plug-in car it sells, but at least it has the nerve to talk about the fact that coal plants do more damage to the environment than automobiles ever will.
3. Don’t forget that EcoBoost business
While everyone is atwitter about autonomous automobiles and electric powertrains, Ford keeps a large portion of its engineering team focused solely on turbo technology, as its EcoBoost line of automobiles continues to grow stronger and more efficient. Everything from small SUVs like the recrafted Escape to the carnivorous Raptor and the bonkers Focus RS hot hatch have turbo power hidden beneath their bonnets, and from the looks of things Ford is just getting warmed up.
Turbochargers don’t just mean a bump in power anymore, as lighter and stronger materials and tech advancements take small displacement engines to new heights, with drivers receiving the benefits of both performance and efficiency gains. We had the chance to take both the Focus RS and the twin-turbo Fusion Sport sedan out on the track up at Ford’s testing grounds, and we can safely attest that both vehicles are extremely rewarding to drive.
4. Autonomous awesomeness and car sharing shenanigans
While all eyes are on companies like Google to see what the future of self-driving cars looks like, Ford has its own take on the future of hands-free commuting. With dates set for unleashing Level 4 ride sharing autonomous automobiles sometime in 2021, the race to bring a car without a steering wheel or pedals is on. The company’s self-driving cars have been hitting the highway up in Michigan for a while now, with Ford sending numerous test vehicles every week out into the real world to see how they behave as well as on the test track back in Dearborn.
Company CEO Mark Fields tells us that while Ford’s autonomous engineering will make ride hailing services far cheaper due to eliminating the need to have a driver, it’s the fact that they plan to offer this product for personal purchase within the next 10 years that excites us. Ford has been working on autonomous car designs for well over a decade now, and although it will always aim to appeal to people who truly enjoy driving, it embraces the notion of people owning and sharing self-driving cars as well.
5. Tech to the future
One of the biggest takeaways from this year’s Further With Ford seminar was the fact that it has gotten to the point when in order to compete in this era, automobiles have to be both tech savvy and easy to operate at the same time. Unlike companies like Google, which is a tech firm that’s trying to become an auto manufacturer, Ford is an accomplished automaker that is trying to become more tech-focused.
Fortunately for Ford, it has a very strong advantage over companies like Google and Apple in that it already has the manufacturing end on lockdown, which means all it needs to do is get the tech of the future into the cars it’s building today. But that’s easier said than done, and Ford has to constantly pressure its dealers to explain the way in which a car’s tech works. Camera systems on the new F-150 and Super Duty line may allow drivers to look around corners and see which direction to turn the wheel in order to keep a reversing trailer straight, but if a salesperson doesn’t show the shopper how it works, then Ford could miss a sale.
6. Sex appeal still sells
Although more people than ever before mention that sustainability, transparency, connectivity, and social responsibility are key factors to weigh when buying a new car, buyers are still emotionally driven by what they find attractive. An automobile is often the second most expensive purchase someone will make in their adult life behind a home, so having curb appeal tends to go both ways for Ford.
Enter cars like the redesigned Raptor, with its menacing militaristic presence and off-road-ready stance, and then compare it to cars like the Focus RS hot hatch and the equally impressive GT350 Mustang. Ford is making some seriously sexy automobiles, and while everyone fawns over the GT supercar, with all of its curvaceous lines and carbon fiber flare, we try not to rule out cars like the redesigned Fusion Sport sedan.
7. Old nameplate, new leadership ideas and directions
A lot has changed since Bill Ford’s great-grandfather first introduced the assembly line back in the early 1900s, and while the business may still be family-run, it has made some rather unique moves of late. Philanthropy for Ford goes well beyond handing out free chicken dinners and checks to the needy, and focuses more on solving some of the world’s toughest problems, as well as both design and engineering issues back on the assembly line.
Company CEO Mark Fields probably said it best when he proclaimed that one strength his company has in spades is its heritage, because to a brand as old as Ford, heritage has morphed into “history with a future.” Social responsibility is now a core pillar of the company, and according to Ford that means holding itself accountable for the commitments it makes and offering complete transparency, with “green, safe, and smart” values supporting every decision made today. This means Ford is doing things like partnering with governments, non-profits, and NGOs in order to provide vehicles in some of the poorest countries in the world. Going further often means giving back, and by providing food, water, medicine, clothing, and supplies to the people who need it most, Ford can help guarantee that the world of tomorrow begins healing today.
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