DEARBORN - It’s one thing to watch a PowerPoint presentation about a new technology. It’s quite another to experience that technology for yourself.
That’s the guiding principle behind the 2013 Research & Advanced Engineering (R&A) Technology Drive, which was held this week at the Dearborn Development Center.
The event enabled 170 of Ford’s top decision-makers from different areas of the company – from Engineering and Product Development to Marketing and Finance – to experience and evaluate 48 of the most promising future technologies developed by Ford specialists and external suppliers.
“The R&A Technology Drive is really about getting key Ford people who are not experiencing technologies every day to come into the vehicles and give us their firsthand impressions in customer language, with particular focus on the driving experience and the perceived value of the technology,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation.
“Our focus is on two things: the high-volume technologies that we can democratize consistently and make available across our Ford vehicles and those technologies that might be exclusive to Lincoln,” he said.
The Drive program originated in Europe in 2004. It was so successful that it was replicated in North America for the first time in 2011. Now the event alternates each year between Dearborn and Lommel, Belgium.
“You can talk a lot about certain features in a conference room but you never get the same impression,” said Pim van der Jagt, executive technical leader, Ford Research and Innovation, Aachen. “When people drive the vehicle and see for themselves how the technology works, they can really understand the benefit it may have to the customer.”
van der Jagt says there is great value to having a broad cross-section of people participate in the program.
“Many different areas of the company play an instrumental role in getting a technology into a vehicle program,” he explained. “For example, Public Affairs people can help determine whether the technology will enhance Ford’s image in the marketplace, and Product Planning and Marketing people are important in evaluating the business case.”
Each participant in the 2013 Drive program had the opportunity to test drive 16 vehicles equipped with different features and technologies with an expert in the passenger seat along to provide information and answer questions. At the end of each demonstration, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire – addressing issues such as the relevancy of the technology to consumers and potential pricing.
“We have had surprising results in the past where some technologies we thought were going to be very successful did not demonstrate well and vice versa,” explained Alex Miller, integration supervisor, Driver Assistance & Active Safety, and one of the lead logistics managers of the Drive event. “The feedback that we gather from the questionnaires helps us determine which technologies have the greatest potential for implementation in future Ford and Lincoln vehicles.”
Mascarenas says honing in on the right features to pursue at the right time and at the right price is becoming increasingly important in today’s competitive marketplace where technology has become a strong differentiator among automakers.
“We need to provide our customers with technologies that are relevant to the experience they have with their vehicles and at the same time offer them value,” he said. “Our technology strategy will distinguish us from our competitors and really define our brand and reputation as a company.”