Ford execs constantly focused on the future

by Jim Kerr . Mar 23 2018
Elaine Cromie / Detroit Free PressFord president Jim Hackett recently spoke to auto journalists about the company’s future.

Elaine Cromie / Detroit Free Press

Ford president Jim Hackett recently spoke to auto journalists about the company’s future.

How do the auto manufacturers decide what to build? What features are included in your next vehicle? These questions and many more need to be answered by the auto manufacturers if they are to prosper in the future.

Jim Hackett, president and chief executive office of Ford Motor Company, and Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford’s global operations, recently talked to several auto journalists about what the future holds in the automotive industry.

Ford is a 115-year-old company, but the past doesn’t predict future success.

Change in the automotive industry is moving fast and companies must constantly focus on the future. At Ford, they realize they have to do a few things really well to make the vehicles we want to buy.

The first is to improve the fitness of Ford. This means the business has to be redesigned to remain profitable. By 2020, Ford will renew more than 75 per cent of its current lineup and add four new nameplates. The average design age of a vehicle in the showroom will be only 3.3 years, down from the current 5.7 years. They will include a lot of new technologies.

Improving the fitness also means introducing cost efficiencies. For example, the company is going away from “vehicle platforms” and introducing five flexible architectures: front-wheel drive unibody, rear-wheel drive unibody, commercial van unibody, body-on-frame and battery-electric vehicles. Common body, chassis, electrical and powertrain modules will be used across these five vehicle architectures and account for 70 per cent of the vehicle content.

The remaining 30 per cent will be customized according to the vehicle design. This saves costs in manufacturing and design, but can also save owners money by making vehicles easier to repair and the commonality of parts should reduce parts prices.

The company must respond to customers needs and incorporate how customers use their vehicles into the design process. For example, by the end of 2019, all Ford vehicles will be equipped with high-speed 4G LTE wireless connectivity. Customers can use smartphones to operate remote features and access vehicle information, but it will also enable vehicles to interact with the environment around them, enabling drivers to avoid heavy traffic or provide a quicker route to your destination. It will be part of the larger concept of artificial intelligence, where neural networks connect vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to surroundings and vehicle to information stored in the cloud. In 2020, Ford plans to roll out “over-the-air” vehicle software updates so vehicle systems can be continuously enhanced during the vehicle’s lifetime.

Next, to prosper, they must place strategic bets. A small team of 10 people at Ford makes informed decisions on what the future will hold. This nimble approach allows for earlier engineering benchmarks to be set, with vehicles and technologies introduced faster. One of Ford’s strategic bets is the addition of off-road design vehicles — vehicles that will excel at travelling off the pavement down country trails or fire roads, while maintaining the comfort, luxury and safety expected in a modern vehicle. Another strategic bet is the incorporation of hybrid or electric versions of almost every model Ford builds by 2020. This will reduce driver concerns about fuel costs, but can also add performance and utility to vehicles. Seeing how customers tie down generators in the F150, Ford decided to provide a built-in generator as part of the F150 hybrid package.

A lot of vehicles are purchased because we have a passion for what we drive. To promote that passion, increased performance, whether it be in better fuel economy or better acceleration and handling, will be built into Ford’s future hybrid and electric vehicle without any compromises. Imagine an even faster hybrid Mustang GT. Trust is crucial when introducing new technologies and vehicles. Part of that trust is building safe vehicles.

Ford is rolling out the Co-Pilot360 suite of standard driver assist technologies this fall and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection will be standard on new passenger cars, trucks and SUV’s going forward. In addition, the safety suite will include blind-spot information, a lane-keeping system, a rear backup camera and automatic high-beam lighting. In 2019, they will also introduce reverse braking assist to help prevent drivers from backing into objects.

In the rapidly changing environment of the automotive industry, it takes a lot of work to simply survive. There are many who haven’t. American Motors, Packard and Studebaker are but a few. To prosper, one needs to think ahead and that is the plan at Ford.