This past week I was fortunate enough to visit the NAIAS (North American International Motor Show) in Detroit, Michigan. In full disclosure it was on behalf of Ford motor company – they paid for travel and accommodations and drove my ass around. Which explains why this article is all about Ford. However, after walking the show floor at the Detroit auto show (as it’s commonly called) I feel that had I went as an independent observer and not on Fords dime, I still would have looked to them as the best all around presenter and participant at the show.
They were all there. From Toyota to Mini Cooper, to BMW, Porsche, Bentley, Mercedes, Maserati, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and so on. Clearly the NAIAS is the place to be if you are a major car manufacturer. I had the pleasure of attending the show when it was only open to media nad stakeholders and executives. You could tell who the media were, we were the ones not wearing suits. Jeans and ball caps, ambling around looking for handouts and press kits – most of which were presented on a flash drive – except for Porsche. They gave me a CD. Really guys? It’s the 21st century. Get with it.
It was an amazing experience, and I’m glad to have represented Digital Dads in the process. It’s a new age when a car company invites 100 bloggers from around the world to experience the NAIAS. Bloggers, techies, mom bloggers (and not mom blogging moms,) dad bloggers and Green bloggers. Some of them, professional journos, some like me – not (yet,ahem.) Following are a few of the major highlights from Ford in particular. It was a lot to take in, and there is much more than just what I’m putting down in words here, but you can simply do a Google search and find all the facts. There are facts, then there is experience and interpretation. I’d like to think that’s why I was there, for just this reason.
The Vision of Henry Ford
Back in 1908 as the first Model T rolled off the line, Henry Ford had a vision. We all know the story, the Ford History is embedded in the American lexicon and literature. While cars have evolved, the vision stays the same in my mind. Ford wanted to create an automobile that was affordable, comfortable and constantly evolving. Even though he fought the UAW, that was evolution that was needed as well and brought his company to the efficient industrial complex it is today. It must be noted that Ford was the only American automaker to not take any of the bailout money from the Government in recent years, and is one of the few automakers to devote as much energy and resources to sustainability and the future of the automobile.
While many car makers are pushing out hybrid vehicles, one here one there, Ford is devoting a whole line of cars to the electric and hybrid future – still in line with the vision of the founder – moving towards the future. This was the running theme of their keynote presentation and press conference. Sustainability and “going green” is the future, and Ford is not just handling this change with their cars. They are employing this line of thought within their factories and how they do business. Ford believed that consumerism was the key to peace, and he really wasn’t too far off.
One of the things the Ford Motor Company has done to adhere to the vision of Henry Ford is to keep their vehicles in line with the demands of the consumer. Rather than make vehicles that they particularly want to make such as a luxury car maker, they make vehicles that the consumer needs and wants. Consider the C-Max, the primarily European Ford car that was introduced as a new American model at the show. This car, with it’s electric capabilities (either hybrid or 100% electric) is a perfect vehicle for the European nation because of it’s compact size and hybrid engine. It’s a risk bringing this car to America, where people are still stuck on trucks and large SUV’s. Of course, it should also be noted that the Ford Explorer won best truck at the 2011 NAIAS.
Henry Ford’s vision is alive and well. It also helps that a direct descendant (Bill Ford) is the chairman of the company. Keeping it in the family allows the company to operate within the moral and business standards of it’s founder. This may have had something to do with Ford not taking any of the bailout money handed out to American car companies over the last couple years. Ford realized that this would not help them in the eyes of the consumer, and instead optioned to cut some costs, sell off a division or two (Jaguar) and focus instead on the future of the automobile.
Sustainability for the Future
Recently at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) the current CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally, called Ford “the app of choice for car buyers” as he introduced the C-Max to the American public. With the Ford Sync technology (in partnership with Microsoft) and their MyTouch system, the previous leaders in automotive communications tech (OnStar) look like tape decks in comparison. One might think that all this tech in a car would make driving more distracting, but of course it’s built to do completely the opposite of that.
The C-Max has reached over 13k in sales in Europe, and will most likely directly compete with the Ford Fusion and Focus hybrids when it’s introduced in the United States. Right now Ford is working on creating an infrastructure of charging stations, working with companies such as Microsoft and Mapquest to make it easy for you to find a charging station (outside your garage) using mobile applications being developed. It should be noted that unlike most charging stations for electric cars, the ones sold by Ford will not have to be hard-wired to your house, good news for renters. However, the Ford vehicle that I am most looking forward to is the VerTrek concept. Introduced at NAIAS by Derrick Kuzak, Global V.P. of Global Product Development, the VerTrek is the next gen electric hybrid vehicle, and pretty sweet looking. It boasts a TDCi Diesel EcoBoost engine and regenerative charging.
As mentioned before, pretty much every car company at the show had some sort of hybrid or electric vehicle. While that is admirable, it seemed to me that only Ford was making the sustainability of electric vehicles a priority of the company, rather than just a side note. This kind of commitment to the future of the environment and industry surrounding it was evident in the way they run their Rouge River plant. From roofs that allow more sunlight and provide solar energy, to the porous cement that filters water runoff to prevent pollution to the Rouge river, Ford is taking a company approach to sustainability. That’s not saying that other car makers aren’t doing the same, I haven’t been to their factories so I can’t speak to it. I’m just noting that the impression I got from Ford was less “hey, look at our new electric car” and more “this is the way we are doing business now.” No other car company at the show even began to give me that impression.
The Venerable, the Dapper Scott Monty
While Ford announced that it will be adding about 7,000 jobs this year (a small fraction of their recent layoffs) there is one man at Ford that probably has the greatest job in the world. This man, is Scott Monty. Scott Monty leads the Global Digital Communications at Ford and was the master of presentation for my trip to Detroit. A constant source of information about Ford, Scott was always on point, good humored and seemed to seriously believe in and love what he does for a living. Ford couldn’t ask for a better social face for their company than Scott Monty. Not even Fake Scott Monty (pictured below center) could compete. Though he sure tried. I tip my virtual top hat to Scott Monty for being an awesome host, never seeming to be annoyed by having to cater to a large group of spoiled bloggers. Fun fact: Scott Monty invented the phrase “tweet-up.” You can follow him on Twitter @scottmonty or officially @ford.
Driving into the Sunset
As aptly stated in their official NAIAS press release, Ford is clearly looking the electric future of driving. “It’s about giving consumers more options for fuel-efficient vehicles of this size and footprint and providing them the power of choice for electrified vehicles, as well,” said Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas. “Today, a world-class, all-new Focus family joining the new Fiesta lineup is delivering more choice. Now, we’re bringing even more to customers with the versatility of the new C-MAX and three different alternatives for customers who want to save fuel by going electric, offering real choice and more products people really want.”
Which is the feeling that I get from the Ford Motor Company. As someone who is about to enter the arena of searching for a new vehicle, it’s good to see that Ford is stepping up their game to move forward into the future of automobiles. To be fair, most of the car companies at the show had some sort of hybrid car, and the Chevrolet Volt won best car of the whole show, so they aren’t 100% slacking. But for me, when it comes to American automakers, it’s Ford and then it’s every one else. The future is electric, the future is green and sustainable. When you consider those terms in the realm of automobiles, what Ford is hoping is that you’ll be thinking Ford.