Alternatively powered automobiles are an ongoing discussion and electric vehicles often enter that conversation. Recently, Volvo outlined an electrified vehicle platform and now Ford is bringing something similar to the table. The Dearborn, Michigan automaker has announced the unveiling of 13 new electrified vehicles by 2020 – a $4.5 billion investment. This represents Ford’s largest-ever electrified vehicle investment in a five-year period and by 2020, more than 40 percent of Ford’s global nameplates will have an electrified counterpart.
Ford’s electric vehicles are just one element and certinately not meant to stand by themselves. A desired enhancement of the customer experience is promoting a change in product development for the new vehicles. Ford’s stance is anybody can make the electric technology but not everybody can make it engaging.
“The challenge going forward isn’t who provides the most technology in a vehicle but who best organizes that technology in a way that most excites and delights people,” said Raj Nair, Executive Vice President, Product Development.
Ford has gone beyond traditional market research, investing in a global, social science-based approach. The automaker is observing how consumers interact with and attach themselves to vehicles. The insights into the cognitive, social, cultural, technological, and economic environments surrounding people and their automobiles will shape how Ford launches their electric vehicles.
“By observing consumers, we can better understand which features and strengths users truly use and value and create even better experiences for them going forward,” Nair said.
According to Nair, marketing, research, engineering, and design are combining in new ways to create more meaningful user experiences. While individual technologies are important, it’s their ultimate incorporation into the finished product that matters.
“We are using new insights from anthropologists, sociologists, economists, journalists, and designers, along with traditional business techniques, to reimagine our product development process, create new experiences and make life better for millions of people,” he said.
Next year, Ford is doubling the number of projects using this ethnographic research. Ford’s team of social scientists has already has spent months exploring everything from luxury transport to the role of trucks in the American heartland.
“As both an auto and a mobility company, we at Ford are going further than just designing the product to move people from point A to point B,” Nair said.
ReD, a social science-based strategy consultancy, started working with Ford in 2012. Since then, ReD has invested more than 4,000 hours with thousands of vehicle users in more than 25 cities worldwide. They have taken 80,000 photos, nearly 3,000 hours of video, and more than 8,000 pages of field notes to help Ford improve their product creation process.
“For 70 years, market research has been done by asking people for their opinion but Ford has always been fundamentally skeptical about that,” said Christian Madsbjerg, Founder of ReD Associates. Madsbjerg was referenceing Henry Ford who famously stated if he would have asked people what they wanted, his response would have been, “a faster horse.”
Madsbjerg believes this cutting edge thinking is part of what will make Ford’s electric vehicles successful.
“I chose to work with Ford because this approach is in their DNA and is setting the company at the forefront of this advanced and bold process, which is redefining market research and silo-busting the way the company operates,” he said.
The new Focus Electric is one of the first offered under this initiative. An all-new DC fast-charge capability is said to provide an 80 percent charge in an about 30 minutes, with a 100-mile range. That’s about two hours faster than the current Focus Electric. Features include a Brake Coach that guides a driver through smooth braking techniques for better energy capture via the Regenerative Braking System.
The Focus Electric will begin production in 2016.
What do you think of electric vehicles?
*Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog.net and resides in Detroit, Michigan.