2012 Further with Ford: Technology Goes Green

Ford's environmental efforts were front and center at the 2012 Further with Ford conference.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Ford enjoys sharing the news on their emerging technologies more than any other major automaker. They prove that every summer at their sprawling campus in Dearborn, Mich.

Sure, the Toyotas, Volkswagens, Mazdas, etc., send out press releases and bring journalists together to learn about the latest advancements. But, Ford assembled more than 200 reporters from different disciplines for two days of seminars and track driving to demonstrate their latest developments.

Seminar subjects included:

Age of Accessible Design: Ford engineers and designers demonstrated how they keep up with an ever-evolving and knowledgeable customer base by watching global visual trends.

Going Beyond the Physical: Journalists got a tour of Ford’s virtual reality labs where 3D and other sensory systems test how vehicles interact with drivers and passengers before they go into full production.

Streamline and Simplify: Software specialists unveiled improvements to Ford Sync, voice recognition and how cars interact with smart phones and other consumer gadgets.

Eco-Psychology: By following the principles of the Butterfly Effect – the idea that small actions can lead to big effects – Ford hopes their efforts to develop the ecological construction of their vehicles has a larger effect on public consciousness and environmental conditions.

Urbanization: By 2050, the world could include as many as 4 billion automobiles. Since most of those cars will be focused in cities, Ford analysts and other experts discussed how cities must change and how cars will change with them.

That urban discussion was the most interesting hour spent at the event. Carol Coletta, an urban design leader and head of ArtPlace (an initiative to transform communities), and Gretchen Effgen, Director of Business and Zipcar, led question and answer sessions about the cities of the future.

With issues like urban renewal, increased centralization and sustainability driving the creation or recovery of the modern metropolis, Ford was eager to feature its involvement in the Zipcar revolution.

For the uninitiated, Zipcar provides urban fleets of communal vehicles for short term usage and rentals. It’s an especially good idea in cities like New York and San Francisco where traffic is brutal and parking is painfully expensive – making owning a car much more difficult than in suburban or rural areas.

With Zipcar, a would be driver goes to a set pickup point, rents a small car and runs whatever errands are on the day’s list. The driver then returns the car to the pickup point or to another Zipcar drop zone nearby in the city. The urban driver can revel in the wonders of transportation without needing to find a permanent or overnight parking space. Ford and their affordable Fiesta models are nuzzled up close with Zipcar in this effort.

As eye opening as the urbanization discussion was, the Eco-Psychology presentation was a little bit of a letdown. Bill Ford, Executive Chairman for Ford Motor Company, is a longtime environmentalist and a driving force between Ford’s effort to use recycled material within their cars en route to producing a car that’s almost entirely biodegradable. With that in mind, I was hoping for more specific news of Ford’s progress during its green seminar.

Instead, we got Adrian Grenier (Vincent Chase from HBO’s “Entourage”) and his filmmaker partner Peter Glatzer pontificating about green “awareness” and encouraging sustainability. In typical self-aggrandizing Hollywood fashion, both men came off a bit patronizing as they bemoaned the common American’s reluctance to embrace the green movement.

The very polite press never asked Grenier how he reconciles his social awareness with the fact that he made most of his money on a TV show that celebrated consumption and a lack of adult responsibility.

That little blip aside, Further with Ford successfully laid out how Ford is laying out millions of dollars to design technological ease and eco-responsible construction into all of their vehicles.