Last week, I was invited to Dearborn, Michigan as part of a media event called Forward with Ford, sponsored and funded by Ford Motor Company and their various partners. This is the first such event Ford has done, and the first media event I have been to, so be easy on us both as the report unfolds – we’re new to this PR-thru-Social-Media thing.
In attendance were gear heads, car tech writers, lifestyle bloggers, environmentalists, and just about any other stratum of the current car/tech/green living/future trends market that you can think of. I spoke with folks from one-person blogs, huge well-known blogs, magazines, and video/audio podcasts. Almost every one of them mentioned how balanced the audience was, rather than being heavily-loaded with car folks. I think that group was the only one disappointed by the mix.
The group also agreed – through my anecdotal talks with various attendees – that the presentations and experiences were well paced, informative, and free from the usual image of “car salesmen screaming about pricing.” The prevailing message I heard was that Ford wants to use whatever you bring into the vehicle to enhance your life and maintain your safety. This includes provision for most smartphones, various health devices, and your physical body. (Some of the features, which are geared to an aging population, are auto-adjusting seat cushions which prevent muscle cramping on long trips, and sensors that can monitor your blood pressure and adjust vehicle prompts to match your stress level. This reduces your “workload” while driving.)
The program kicked off with a talk from Malcolm Gladwell, addressing the trends he sees in the US right now, and how those are being addressed by the sessions at the conference. The six areas of focus for the event were:
1) An aging population
2) The Global Convergence of Design
3) Security for All Ages
4) Green Living
5) Emerging Technologies
6) Engaging your Senses
Each attendee could only go to three sessions. The three I choose were Aging Population (I’m a Boomer, what can I say?), Emerging Technologies, and Living Green. I will cover each of these areas in more detail in further articles, but I’ll touch on each one here.
Two facts about our Aging population: In the next 15 years, there will be more folks over the age of 50 than there are under the age of 20. With people living longer, health concerns, not just safety but health management, will become more and more important. Second fact – one sixth of the monies spend by the US government for all causes is spent on Diabetes. I find this stunning, but my Lovely Bride, who is a nurse and works with many folks who are living with this disease, was not surprised. With that large a number, managing this becomes a major lifestyle factor for many of us over our lifespans.
In the Living Green session, we heard from Ed Begley, Jr., who mostly talked about his lifelong engagement with sustainable living. He gave specific examples and ideas for incorporating green principles into your life today.
Emerging Technologies centered on Ford’s partnerships with Nuance, Pandora, and SYNC by Microsoft, as well as their new AppLink initiative. Ford’s guiding principle for this trend is that the vehicle should be able to easily engage and enhance anything you bring into it. Smartphones and iPods all carry more music today than the capacity of CD cartridges of just a few years ago, with their measly 5-8 CDs worth of music. Melding geolocation, social networks, and music or other content into the voice-controlled tech in your vehicle is the new touch.
Paul Hochman of the TODAY show and Fast Company led a panel of Ford engineers in a presentation around these technologies and how they will be integrated into our futures.
That evening, we heard from executives from Pandora, SONY, Universal, Nuance, and Gracenote about the Future of music. They explored issues of copyright/rights management, metadata, publishing, and how these often conflicting ideas may play out.
The last day of the conference was spent at the Ford Proving Gound, where we had opportunity to actually use the technologies we’d been hearing about, and see how they performed in the field. We competed in getting the best gas mileage in an Eco–Driving challenge, drove off-road in the E3-Explorer course, tested our ability to accurately corner in a Focus Target challenge, drive in various weather conditions on a partially flooded course, and respond to real-world events in a F-150 Power Challenge. In the Connected vehicle area, we not only had opportunity to connect our devices to car systems and test voice control, but also used Assisted Parking, where the on-board sonar in the car detects and steers the vehicle into a parking place while you, the driver, only operate gas and brake. Loads of fun! During this time, those who had signed up for it also got to go to the Crash Test building and be the first media group ever to witness a crash test.
All in all, it was a well-planned and executed event that made a positive impression on everyone I spoke with who experienced it. The communication from Ford of their commitment to safety, driver awareness, sustainability, and integration of their vehicles into your lifestyle was interesting, compelling, and honest.
In future posts, I’ll write about the three sessions I attended in more detail. If you have other questions about the event, please mention them in the comments.