It takes Ford about three years to bring a new vehicle from the design board into the marketplace. That leaves a lot of time to miss out on the latest trends and must-have gadgets.
That’s why Ford needs a vice president of the future. Her name is Sheryl Connolly, and her actual title is head of global consumer trends and futuring.
I think mine sounds better. Sheryl spoke Tuesday morning to a breakfast crowd of businesspeople at the Radisson Hotel and Convention Center in Camp Hill. The event was sponsored by the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC.
Not surprisingly, she came with plenty of great facts about the future. For example, by 2050, the world population is expected to include 1.2 million centenarians. That’s 1.2 million people 100 years old or older, a 140 percent increase over today.
So what, you say? Everybody knows the population is trending older, right? And what does it have to do with making new vehicles anyway?
Well, a lot, as it turns out. Sheryl noted how Ford’s popular Escape small SUV has a hands-free liftgate system. The rear hatch opens with a simple kick to the rear undercarriage. The system was developed in response to aging trends, Connolly said.
While the system is probably not going to make you buy the car, once you have it, “you become increasingly dependent on it and can’t live without it,” she added.
Ford’s creative teams are also responding to safety concerns, Connolly said. Its MyKey technology allows parents to program a top speed and mute the vehicle radio until their teen driver buckles up.
“What we’re really selling with this piece of technology is peace of mind,” Connolly said.
Everything is on the table when it comes to anticipating the slightest change that can win Ford a better market share in the highly competitive car-making world.
What Ford is doing seems to be working. The company was the only one of the Big Three U.S. automakers to reject a government bailout in 2008-09.
Ford announced Monday it added 300 workers and invested another $129 million recently at its Louisville assembly plant, where Ford makes the Lincoln MKC and Escape.
Currently, Ford is incorporating worldwide obesity trends into its vehicles, Connolly told me prior to her talk. That means wider doors. And the company remains heavily invested in green technology, she said.
“We as consumers are always projecting what we stand for by how we spend our dollar,” she told the audience.