Words by Kyle Ayoung
The Ford Motor Company has spearheaded the automotive industry with profound inventions since 1903 and for the next one hundred years brought products to market that exceedingly fulfilled consumers’ needs and desires across the globe. To tap into this technological bravado the domestic auto brand hosted their sixth annual “Further with Ford” conference which outlined dialogue for new trends, showcased the latest Dearborn innovations and delineated the company’s sustainability mission. A gathering of hundreds of international press heard first hand from speakers such as President and CEO Mark Fields as well as Bill Ford himself regarding the direction in which Ford is heading. By investing money and talent to bring the world cool technology and environmentally responsible products Ford is positioning itself to lead the way in the next era of mobility.
Ford is more dedicated than ever in ascertaining they sustain another hundred years in the auto market which means adaptation of consumer expectations. The senior management team recognizes that consumers will always purchase personal vehicles, yet there is a large segment trend in ride sharing, especially with Uber and Lyft doing so well. Combine that with the fact that many companies, not just automobile manufacturers, are working on a range of various autonomous vehicle technologies such as self-driven cars that can be used as taxis and ride shares to fulfill commuter needs. Ford envisions a future where every home will potentially house an autonomous vehicle, and it is why they have dedicated resources to producing autonomous Fusions which I had the pleasure of experiencing. Although exciting in traffic the vehicle performed like any well-trained driver would, obeying traffic laws and posted speed limits. It also transitioned from lane to lane and interpreted complex traffic decisions flawlessly. Although a continuous work in progress the Autonomous Fusion was still impressive.
As inspiring as it was, there are several of these projects in development from industry competitors and large tech companies like Google and Apple. Bill Ford addressed this scenario in his presentation and did not rule out possibilities of future partnerships with the aforementioned tech giants as they continue to develop products on their own. After all, those companies specialize in technology but Ford knows how to build automobiles, so a marriage between the two would only be wise.
During the 2-day conference I accomplished more than simply test driving vehicles, although that’s always the ultimate goal for understanding. I attended trend sessions with open discussions and presentations on the other aspects of Ford’s mission like the “Chasing Butterflies” theme. There was a panel of speakers which included Walter Robb, Co-CEO Whole Foods, Shona Quinn, Sustainability Leader for Eileen Fisher and Ford’s very own Kimberly Pittel, VP of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. The discussion was centered on the responsibility of corporations in the modern world. As stated by Pittel, “wherever we do business, we want to make sure we maintain respect for our communities and environment, and work to leave the place better than we found it.” Now that idea is not a new one at all. In 2013 Ford reached its global goal to reduce water usage per vehicle by 30% for example. They have now set ambitions to reduce consumption by an additional 30% by 2020. In addition, Ford also strives to minimize the waste impact of their manufacturing operations and is especially proud that 74 facilities currently send no waste to landfills. Their endgame is to have all facilities globally send zero waste to landfills. These are bold objectives that will benefit both Ford and the planet as a whole if they do come to fruition. The panel also discussed consumer accountability for their actions and that transparency is the best way to ensure success and morally sound decisions are measured.
George Washington Carver would be happy to know that his research on the multiple uses of the soybean has had a massive impact on the world. Ford utilizes a cadre of recyclable materials in their product line such as soy foam in seats or soybeans in the production of exterior mirrors and seals. But soy is not alone. Ford has employed, thru a partnership with Heinz (keep in mind Heinz is not GMO free and is not considered a health company), the use of tomato skins to produce bio-plastic materials for wiring brackets and storage bins. Barley, agave, corn and even bamboo are all being featured in some shape or form to produce functional materials for automobiles like plastics made from coconuts.
So as you see Ford has positioned itself appropriately to lead the market in quantity of vehicle production, innovation and environmentally responsible products that are fun to drive and ethical to own. The future is now for the Detroit native.