Here’s a weird story that will likely make you jealous: I have a friend, Will McGough, who is a talented travel writer and runs a blog called Wake and Wander. He’s starting to blow up, which means he’s getting too busy most of the time to do all this cool stuff that everyone wants him to do (rough life, I know). So when he asked me if I wanted to head out to Detroit for the Go Further with Ford trend conference, all expenses paid, I was like, helllll yeah! I wrote a more targeted travel post about zipcar for him that you can find on his blog here, but this is my synopsis of the event. Keep in mind that I wrote it for his blog and was too lazy to re-edit it for my own purposes. More photos at the end of the post, after the jump.
Let me begin by introducing myself, clearing up a few misconceptions, and in the process, probably creating a few. I’m Ryan Dearth. I’m a photographer in Denver, and I am by no means a writer. Please excuse any and all spelling and grammatical errors, as well as any run-on sentences and just straight-up ramblings. I do love to travel though, and somehow finagled my way on assignment to cover the Go Further with Ford conference outside of Detroit last week. Big mistake, Will.
Over the course of 2.5 days, I was involved in discussions on technology, design, urbanization, and eco-psychology, and how they affect Ford Motor Company and the cars they produce. I also kicked a (missed) field goal at Ford Field, met some great people, ate for free, drank for free, and (after sobering up) got to race around the test track like a banshee in cars like the 2013 5.0L V8 Mustang, Police Interceptor, and the new plug-in Focus (more fun than it sounds). I’ll skip over some of these details, but in short, they treated me well.
A little background. I have not been a big believer in the American auto industry for the past few years. Through my personal experiences they never wowed me, and the stories I had been told by friends who owned American wholly turned me off from ever seriously considering buying one myself. In fact, if I were in the market to buy a car two weeks ago I would not even have test-drove an American car. So the question is, did they convert me? Well no. Not completely at least. But I was incredibly impressed with what they’re doing – and at the very least, I’d take a pretty hard look at Ford before I made my decision.
The conference started out with dinner at Ford Field Tuesday night, which included an interview with Bill Ford given by tech-journalist David Kirkpatrick. Admittedly, it felt a bit like Kirkpatrick was occasionally blowing steam up Ford’s shorts, but ultimately I found Ford to be an incredibly sharp, forward thinker. He spent time speaking about the cohesive shift in thinking that Ford has done to get away from the loose footed, gas-guzzling industrial giant that was a child of the American industrial revolution, to become a more modern, environmentally conscious company that is preparing for the populated future of the world economy. I’m no expert, but it sounds like this shift, although inevitable, was in large part due to his influence.
We spent more time talking about those topics in conferences around the Ford campus the next day. Adrian Grenier was among the panelists for the eco-psychology session representing his new company SHFT.com, which aims to educate consumers on better sustainable choices they can make with their dollars and how they live. We were invited into a building with grass growing on the roof to get a look at the aerodynamics of the new Ford Fusion in the wind tunnel. It was a good lesson on green design, but more importantly, there was some major wow factor in being inside a live wind tunnel. We also got to see just how much recycled material goes into a car these days – A lot. A whole lot. And finally we saw how technology was being implemented to allow drivers to be more conscious of how they drive and use fuel.
Urbanization was another keynote, which I found to be the most interesting of all. According to projections, by 2050 we should expect to see 9B people on the planet driving 4B cars, as opposed to the 7B driving 1B cars now. As globalization increases and the world population explodes, the mobility of people becomes more and more important. Put that way it makes complete sense that automakers would have a vested interest in preparing for that future. One trend that we see is the movement of people to more densely populated areas. Logically, large cities with more urban sprawl (e.g. Los Angeles) have far more trouble with mobility than cities in closed spaces that forced vertical growth (e.g. New York). Ford’s answer to this is their investment in technology to allow communication between vehicles. Shared navigation and velocity information could revolutionize traffic-flow, and personal safety, and would increase efficiency on a number of systems. They also show support of companies like Zipcar, which allows short-term car rentals (or car sharing as they call it) across large cities for locals and tourists. Zipcar claims that every one of their cars takes at least 20 personally owned vehicles off the road.
Most of the other topics I found to be expected more than anything. In this day and age, a company like Ford would be left in the dust by consumers for not keeping up with green practices. The same story with design and technology, their competitors would eat them alive if they didn’t continue to innovate on those fronts. But the urbanization topic got me. It ties everything together, and proves that Ford is a more forward thinking company than I had expected. And of course a little bribery never hurts, especially in the form of setting me loose on an open track in a 420HP Mustang.