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The NAIAS with Ford Motor Company

by Tiffany in Green Cars

I mentioned a few days ago that I would be traveling a bit and I actually just got back from Detroit yesterday evening after a whirlwind trip. The last few days were spent in the Motor City enjoying the North American International Auto Show. Ford sponsored the trip so obviously most of what I experienced was viewed through Ford colored glasses. It was a spectacular experience and I learned a lot about subjects that I am woefully uneducated in. For three days I learned about auto manufacturing, sustainability innovations and plans, marketing, and of course Ford’s new pride and joy, the brand new Ford Fusion models coming out in the Fall.

Oh, and don’t tell Ford but the BEST thing about the trip was that they invited several of my friends as well. It was a great experience anyway but great experiences are always maximized when you get to experience them with people you care about right? So I cannot go without sharing those particular highlights first… namely Diane at Big Green Purse, Jenn at The Green Parent, Anna at Green Talk, and Stephanie Moram of Good Girl Gone Green. The first three I have known and spoken with for several years via a green moms group and Stephanie is a fairly new blogger that has become a fast friend.

Below is Stephanie, Mara (a Canadian Blogger), Jenn, and Anna. Love these ladies!!

Okay, so the purpose of the trip. Well, I think it differed for everyone who was invited because we all had very different backgrounds. There were 150 bloggers invited form all over the world. There were bloggers from Turkey, South Africa, France, Spain, and Canada for instance. Few of the bloggers actually write about cars though. There were fitness bloggers, fashion bloggers, design bloggers, daddy bloggers, mommy bloggers, and of course green bloggers. I think everyone had their own interests and take away from the show so I can only speak to my own.

I went into this experience knowing next to nothing about green cars. What I knew about hybrids, electric cars, and other greener car options was not enough to fill a 30 second elevator speech. Mostly this is because they are out of my price range and I have never had to do in depth comparisons as I would if I were buying some other product. I have three vehicles at the moment and the “youngest” is over 12 years old. All were bought used. I believe in buying used and not buying something that will depreciate after I drive it off the lot. I hate car payments with a passion. But for a couple years now I have toyed with the idea of getting a newer, used Ford Focus. Some family members of mine had one and I know they get good gas mileage. Of course after this trip what I REALLY want is a Ford Fusion, which was in many ways the star of the show at the NAIAS. I gravitated towards the sea foam green car as you can see but it’s not just the color that knocks this baby out of the park. This particular Ford Fusion is a plugin hybrid and it gets 100+ MPGe. Being as ‘out of the loop’ as I was, I never even knew such a thing was possible. For the record the Ford Fusion (Eco boost engine) gets 37 mpg, the Hybrid get 47 mpg. All three are great options. If you check out Ford’s web site you can see better photos of them and get more info.

Another interesting tidbit is that the chief engineer working on the Fusion stated that 90% of the car is recyclable and they are working on all the plastic components to eventually bring that to 100%.

I have had to stop and think about the idea that I may lean toward Ford BECAUSE of this experience and honestly I may. Since I knew nada about green cars I have no special place in my heart for a Prius or any other well publicized green car. It is thanks to Ford’s generosity in deciding to educate me that I now have more knowledge about this issue. I think that a used Ford Focus is still the most likely option in my future but other possibilities are now on my radar. I think the cost savings would be worth it to eventually purchase a Fusion hybrid or plugin hybrid. One of the things that helped solidify that in my ever frugal mind was the fact that these cars (hybrids/electric) hold their value, unlike most regular automobiles. This may be hyped a bit but I did hear a Ford exec saying in a conversation that he has seen some used Ford cars coming in with 300,000 miles on the original battery. That is phenomenal if it is true.

Some of the other green bloggers and I spent some time walking the show and comparing the Fusion with other hybrid and electric hybrid offerings. There were really only two that stacked equally or perhaps better in my mind. Most of the other offerings were lacking. One company in particular had a plugin hybrid for a whopping 67K price tag. Ford has yet to announce the pricing structure for these new cars but I am optimistic it will be more reasonable. Folks in my neck of the woods can buy a decent house for that earlier price. It was nice to be there with some green bloggers who knew enough about the subject matter to ask the tough questions and help us all make better comparisons.

This is Diane, firing away with her questions. She is even more amazing in person than I ever knew and I so enjoyed meeting her. She is amazing!

Of course this trip went beyond the unveiling of the new cars. All the bloggers that attended also got to speak one on one with many Ford executives, go to Ford World Headquarters, and the Ford Product Development Center. We saw how they are using digital advances to reduce costs and use fewer resources. When they have gone as far as they can with digital images and design THEN they make scale and full size models out of plasticized clay. They reuse as much of that clay as they possibly can. This is most likely about dollars and cents more than sustainability but I love how intimately connected those two things seem to be at Ford. Another example would be all the money and research spent in designing sustainable materials for the interior of their cars. They are working with coconuts, soy, corn, wood fibers, wheatgrass, and other natural materials to make plant based plastics and other car components like their soy seat cushions. This helps them get an edge in the green market of course but it also helps them reduce the weight of their cars. That translates into better fuel economy and a more attractive car for consumers.

None of the auto makers will likely appreciate this thought but the fact that money can be such a huge motivator to make them go green further proves to me that government legislation is needed. Our government needs to step up and give them incentive and/or deadlines for making gains in greater fuel economy, sustainability in materials and manufacturing, and a greener life cycle all around. But that said I still think Ford is making progress. Much of what we saw at their product development center was stuff they have been working on for many, many years. And a brief Ignite presentation by a Futerist at Ford made me more aware of how they plan for what the world and society will look like years down the road. We may not know they are working on solutions to what may impact us ecologically down the road, but they are. They want to remain profitable no matter what so they plan for every possible future. I am SURE that planning includes rising to overcome tougher Government legislation in auto making.

In addition to an appreciation of their green initiatives I also like the company. Scott Monty, the head of social media for Ford, was a really fun and likeable guy. I also met a man at the dinner on Sunday night who is a 4th generation employee of the company. He insisted that this in no way makes him unique though. I think it says something really powerful when people spend their entire careers at one company and their kids and grandkids do as well. It is also still a family business, despite its size. We saw William Ford at the press conference. This experience definitely made me more aware of Ford as a company but also as a group of really talented and interesting people.

This write-up has gotten really lengthy so I think I will wrap and post about some other aspects of the trip later. Inevitably people wonder if Ford sponsoring such a trip will influence one in their favor. I am not rushing out to buy a new car but the possibility is now on my radar more than ever. This is in large part because I actually know a little something about what is on the market now and not from a magazine article. I have seen these cars, touched them, sat in them, and spoken to people who had a hand in designing them. How can that not influence me? It does. I will still being doing research to find the best car for me if and when I am in a position to actually buy a hybrid or plugin hybrid (probably the former). I will however being comparing them with the amazing cars I saw at Ford this week.

** Ford Motor Company paid for my travel and accommodations at the 2-day Innovation and Design Fantasy Camp event, I was not compensated in any other manner for my time. Opinions posted here are my own.**