I was invited recently to talk on a panel about trends at the launch of a new global edition of the Ford Focus car in the US. Ford are making the concerted effort to adapt to the changing consumer. They were very aware that players from Asia had made terms like the ‘Big 3′ no longer relevant a spokesman said. He admitted that the car company was moving the trucks and Mustangs off the the showrooms as people don’t want them anymore. In their place will be Fiestas and Focuses.
Before she moderated the panel of trends experts on which I was due to be part of, Ford’s Trends and Futuring Manager Sheryl Connelly explained the trends that were shaping how Ford (NYSE:F) saw the world and the drivers and passengers of their cars. Connelly told the audience of journalists and bloggers that the motor company has started to look at trends outside of the automotive industry. They now look at what’s happening in areas like technology and fashion.
Key trends that are driving the Ford Fiesta and Focus development:
Make It Mine
Connelly argues that other sectors have set people’s expectations for unlimited choice:
“We can get what we want, where you want, when you want it. 5 or 10 years ago we would have bought ‘good enough’. Now we have more avenues to find the product that we want and when we still can’t find it, we can even get people to make it for us.”
Customization a few years ago boiled down to fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror or bumper stickers, Connelly said. Today Ford’s Sync information system allows drivers to customize the car. For example, the digital dash board can be rearranged to show the dials that the driver thinks is important and the new cars come with mood lighting that can be changed by the driver to reflect the context of their journey.
Ford believes that consumers want to know how the company aligns with their values. Not only are Ford introducing Hybrids across their portfolio but they are providing feedback to allow the car owner to drive more efficiently. When in mode, the car can talk to the driver about the environmental impact of their actions plus green leaves grow on the ‘Smart Gauge’ as driving becomes less harmful for the planet.
Ford looked at tattoo culture in Millennials. They saw the rise of personal marking and noticed that if someone had a tattoo they were more than likely to have between two and five. In reaction, the car company created Ford Custom Graphics allows the creation of personalized skins to wrap around their small cars.
Ford believes that they needed to allow people to connect with their digital devices and platforms inside their car in the same way they do outside. Connelly said:
“Having information is the new status symbol. Having real time data puts people in control. So we created a center stack screen that offers a computer like screen and syncs with tools that are part of your every day.”
Later this year, Ford will update the Sync system to allow downloadable apps such as Pandora and Google Maps for your car. At the event there was a car that played Pandora radio and another that downloaded Google Maps to enable drivers to route their journey.
An experimental Fiesta called AJ showed where the addition of applications might lead to. The car had been hacked with additional technology and was being driven around the US where it would not only tweet its location but its mood too.
The Car As The Third Place
Ford thinks of the car as the new third place. They believe that all of the digital connections allow the car to be a home on wheels. They already have a data system that allows the F150 truck be an office on wheels – but they see that more social, playful and educational tools will evolve to suit the passengers of smaller cars.
Streamlined, Simple and Small
Ford has looked at how the reduction in product size in technology size has not meant a reduction in quality. They are inspired by how Apple‘s continued miniaturization of the iPod makes people believe the smaller products are better. Connelly said:
“People are pushing back and they want to be back to basics. Technology is going to need to be appropriate and discreet. We looked at how technology was going small. This is the way of innovation. Small packages doesn’t mean sacrifice – it can mean the most cutting edge in the market.”