DEARBORN, Mich. - Nearly 200 members of the media from all over the world gathered in Dearborn recently for the fourth annual Go Further with Ford trend conference, designed to demonstrate how the company’s four pillars – quality, safe, green and smart – tie in to broad trends that are expected to influence consumers in the near future.
Sheryl Connelly, manager, Ford Global Trends and Futuring, opened the conference with an overview of why consumer trends are important to Ford.
"We’re building vehicles that won’t see the light of day for another three to five years, sometimes 10 years, and so we have to try and anticipate what people are going to want in the future," said Connelly. "We have no crystal ball that will tell us what’s on the horizon. So what we have to do is look to trends."
Connelly said Ford looks at trends in five different categories: social, technological, economic, environmental and political arenas.
"What we want to do is start our conversations around things that we can’t control or influence," she said. "Imagine the variety of different possibilities of the way the future might unfold. And then we ask ourselves how that might affect our industry."
Connelly, who has been leading Trends and Futuring at Ford for more than a decade, defined a trend as "a shift in a closely held attitude or behavior" and cited blue jeans as an example.
"Blue jeans have been around for 150 years and if this was the 1900s and I was wearing a pair of jeans in front of you, I would probably be a laborer. That means I’m part of the lower socioeconomic class," she explained. "But 100 years later blue jeans are high society. People can wear them into the office. They can wear them to the finest restaurants. People pay hundreds of dollars for a single pair of jeans."
Connelly said that’s a manifestation of a trend because it means society as a whole has changed its values, attitudes and behaviors toward that piece of clothing.
How does one distinguish between a trend and a fad?
"A fad is something that changes with the season, most often in terms of fashion," said Connelly. "So high-rise, low-rise, boot cut, skinny leg, acid-washed jeans these are fads. And these things aren’t going to help Ford Motor Company understand what consumers are going to want three, five, 10 years from now. In fact we have to work hard to make sure that we’re not distracted by watching the fads and not staying true to the trends."
Connelly said Ford has been making its trend findings public since 2013 when the company published its first trend book.
"These trends that we share are what we call micro trends, suggesting a shorter shelf life from the macro trends that we talk about in terms of the aging population and the rise of obesity," she explained.
In the 2014 "Looking Further with Ford" trend publication, Connelly outlines 10 micro trends that reflect Ford’s view of the attitudes that will alter consumer dynamics across the globe in 2014 and beyond.
Some of the trends outlined in the book were the subject of speaker presentations and panel discussions during the "Further with Ford" conference, which featured a number of third-party thought leaders, such as NBC Today’s Jenna Wolfe and Jane McGonigal, a game designer and author of the book Reality is Broken.
In addition to the speaker presentations, members of the media attending the trend conference had a chance to take a look behind the scenes at Ford’s Product Development and Research facilities to see the latest innovations in design and technology, such as the company’s Virtual Reality Lab, which enables designers and engineers to fully experience a vehicle in the virtual world long before a physical prototype can be built; and Studio 2000x a computer animation facility that creates ultra-high-definition productions for a wide range of uses in vehicle design.
Media also had an opportunity to drive Ford vehicles at the company’s test track.