Autos, Ford

Meet Ford, The Consumer Company

When Hardware Geeks received their second annual invite to Ford’s “Go Further” conference (yes, Michael was there last year and they actually invited us back) I figured I knew exactly what I would hear. Innovative new technology! Steve Wozniak is here! Green stuff!

Once I arrived in Detroit and settled in, I naturally congregated around my nerdy brethren and had my suspicions confirmed. Then, I met a few women who categorized themselves as mom bloggers. Then I met someone who blogged about cats. Then I met some developers, and then someone who writes about clothes. What could half of these people care about cars, and tehcnology?

I asked myself, where the hell am I?

All the attendees boarded a bus to the Henry Ford Musem; we got to look at some awesome old cars (photos to come when I have better wifi). Ford CEO Alan Mulally took the stage to explain exactly what this conference was all about. He talked about Ford’s innovation, their dedication to the vision of Henry Ford (unveiling a very cool advertisement in the original Ford vein), then answered questions about eco-friendliness and battery tech…

…then someone in the audience asked Mulally about his keynote at CES 2007, and he lit up. “Funny you ask,” he said, having clearly been thinking about this already. Aside from a funny anecdote about getting the invite–his first call was to Bill Gates, to apologize for stealing a keynote–Mulally mentioned very little about Sync, or any technology for that matter.

He talked about speaking to consumers, and what they want, and what sort of changes Ford made (and continues to make) to better suit their needs. While none of that sort of talk is new, that’s when Ford’s grand vision for the future: not as a car company, but as a consumer brand, one that transcends the 10-block drive to the grocery store.

I’ve yet to hear that kind of plan from a car company (and Mulally was careful to say, more than once, to explain the previous generation of Ford as when they were “just a car company”.) Tesla positions themselves as the technological and ecological leaders; the BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Jaguar (a Ford brand themselves) and Audi, among others, wrestle for the luxury segment while Toyota races for the bottom, with Dodge, Chevrolet and others still figuring it out. It’s not exactly like an LG or Huawei going head-to-head with Apple for the hearts and minds of the consumer; Ford had more than 50% marketshare at one point, and it’s possible for some car company to do that again.

We’ll hear more about what exactly Ford thinks that looks like…over the coming days. Stay tuned for more.