Trendspotting with Ford: How the Auto Industry Prepares for the Future

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percent of all household buying decisions and more than $85 billion in automotive expenditures, according to Ford research. Does it make a difference if a woman is buying a car instead of a man? Yes, Connelly says, because women concentrate on benefits while men concentrate on features. Women aren’t willing to compromise on safety and security, Connelly adds, which is why you’ll see more rain sensors, never-flat tires, and a system that autodials 9-1-1 when the airbags deploy.

Eco-psychology: Are Consumers Still Willing to Pay to Be Green?

Though consumers have been slow to buy electric vehicles, likely because the prices remain prohibitive, Connelly says consumers are still concerned about sustainability and values. “Consumers think, ‘What does it say about me when I do business with you?,’ ” Connelly adds. “It lets people know they stand for something, and they’re willing to pay a premium to tell people they care.”

Post-recession, Connelly says, consumers are still willing to pay that premium, but the key phrase now is “careful consumption” that balances passion with practicality. “People will spend money on sanity savers or things that simplify or enhance their lives,” she says.

For example, the 2013 Ford Escape will have a hands-free liftgate. If your hands are full of groceries, you give a gentle kick to make the back open. (You must have your keys in your pocket or purse for it to work.) “It seems kind of silly, but it’s an investment that makes life easier. What’s neat is that the technology isn’t new, it’s just a new application of it,” Connelly says.

Ford is also rolling out innovations in lightweight and recycled materials, which the company says will cut the amount of water it uses, its energy consumption, and the amount of waste it sends to landfills by 100 million pounds. It also makes the cars more efficient. By the end of 2012, eight Ford models will get 40 miles per gallon or better.

Connectivity and Control: The Age of Information Addiction

Ford’s dedication to connectivity continues, with the company announcing last month that its Palo Alto, CA-based Silicon Valley Research Lab, which seeks to draw ideas from and build relationships with the surrounding tech community, is officially open for business.

Despite the problems Ford has had with its MyFordTouch system, which critics charged was prone to crashing often and distracting drivers, it remains committed to getting its voice-activated SYNC system into more cars—9 million by 2015. Also coming is SYNC AppLink, a new, free Ford feature using industry-first technology that allows drivers to control their iPhone, Android, and Blackberry apps through voice recognition software.

That plays into another trend: information addiction. The new status symbol, Connelly says, is being considered a person who’s “in the know” by family, friends, and social networks. “Having information at our fingertips means we’re better able to control our environment,” Connelly adds. “That translates to power, success, and affluence.”

Though smart phones, tablets, and laptops are marketed as time savers, Connelly says what they’ve actually done is create a world of 24-hour commerce … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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