Ford continues to push further

Alan Mulally and Steve Wozniak

We’ve seen many large companies, particularly automakers, rest on their laurels and become insular organizations. It’s easy to get into this rut when you measure profits in the billions and you have a huge bureaucracy.

But we’ve also seen how this attitude can lead to disaster, with the auto industry being just one example. Remember Atari? The flip side to measuring profits in the billions is measuring losses in the billions as well when things go wrong.

The culture at Ford seems very different today as the company tries to demonstrate each year in its Further with Ford conferences, where media members, bloggers and social media influencers from a wide variety of backgrounds are invited to hear from company officials, attend panel discussions from thought leaders, and of course get introduced to new Ford products and initiatives.

We were happy to attend the Further with Ford conference again this year, and CEO Alan Mulally kicked things off with an address on Monday night and was joined on stage by tech icon Steve Wozniak who would join the technology panel the next day.

Along with Chairman Bill Ford who spoke to us the next morning, Mulally has set the tone for the new Ford. The company is fiercely competing in the marketplace, while also trying to identify and adopt to trends in our fast-changing world that can impact their products on how consumers use them. Bill Ford repeated the example of car-sharing service ZipCar and how companies like that are challenging past assumptions about the auto market. Rather than ignore this development, Ford persuaded his skeptical executive team and decided to partner with ZipCar, which then ended up being an effective platform to promote Ford vehicles.

What’s most impressive about these conferences is Ford’s willingness to have real discussions with independent thought leaders who will speak their mind about the topics at hand. In one panel called “Returning to Your Senses,” the panel addressed how gadgets are infiltrating every waking moment of our lives. While Ford executive Gary Strumolo was touting new ways to interact with Ford vehicles to monitor health, MIT professor Sherry Turkle was explaining how our addition to devices was potentially harming our children, our relationships and our ability to have much needed moments of solitude. The resulting discussion was a very good one, but it showed that Ford was less interested in a scrubbed-over PR message as opposed to generating a real conversation. This willingness to address the ideas that challenge company priorities is critical to having a dynamic culture that will make a company thrive, as opposed to an insular culture where the executive team’s decisions are treated like dogma. By listening to concerns of thought leaders like Ms. Turkle, hopefully Ford can make better and informed decisions as they add more technology and interactivity to our vehicles.

The same dynamic was present in the technology panel. Ford unveiled a series of videos showing the Ford Evos concept car and how it might interact with a driver in the future. Some of the ideas were interesting, while others seemed to be trying to find a driver need or desire to fit a technology. The personalization features prompted a series of privacy questions and concerns from the media, and Steve Wozniak didn’t hesitate to emphasize that concern, pointing out that Ford and other large companies couldn’t just rely on acceptance of terms and conditions when someone starts using new features, because we always say yes in order to proceed. Instead, a real system that lets users know how their information is used with easy opt-out options for each feature is critical. That discussion probably wasn’t at the top of the Ford representative’s list as he wanted to focus on the cool new features, but again the panel was able to have a real discussion about privacy along with the technology.

The best panel by far covered design and included author Seth Godin, Jay Ward from Pixar, retailing entrepreneur Rachel Shechtman and Ford design chief J Mays. Godin touched on one of his favorite topics, as the concept of “normal” is fading away as society becomes more interconnected, making it easier for like-minded people to interact. With that in mind, companies who try to please everyone by aiming at the middle are having less success, while targeting groups who were once considered weird, or outside the mainstream, with excellent products can now lead to greater success. We’re seeing that thankfully in the auto industry as we’re seeing far fewer vehicles that seem to have been designed by committee. In trying to please everyone, you please no one.

Seth Godin

Another interesting story came from Jay Ward, who explained how Pixar approached one unnamed Detroit automaker about collaborating when Pixar was making “Cars” but was turned down. But J Mays and Ford gladly accepted the invitation. It may seem like an obvious decision now, but in old Detroit it’s not surprising that wouldn’t consider such a partnership.

Lastly, I got to drive some great cars as well and I’ll be following up with reports on each of them. The one that stands out was the Ford Fusion plug-in hybrid, which is just one example of Ford’s push into electric vehicles. In this hybrid Fusion, the braking system helps to recharge the battery, and each time you brake the dashboard will let you know how efficient you were in terms of transferring energy to the battery as a percentage all the way up to 100%.

Innovation requires a culture that is willing to challenge established beliefs. It can be difficult for large companies to develop and then maintain such a culture, but it appears Ford has found a formula that works.

Ford Fusion plug in hybrid

  

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Interview with Nissan Senior Vice President José Muñoz

Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to pose questions to Nissan Senior Vice President José Muñoz from our editors and readers at the New York Auto Show. WE got a great response, and Nissan Product Specialist Caroline Oberst was on hand to relay the questions submitted on this blog and by Twitter to Mr. Muñoz. The questions covered a wide variety of vehicles and topics, including new hybrids like the 2014 Pathfinder pictured in the first photo above and sales of the Nissan Leaf.

We’ve been very impressed with Nissan’s new vehicles, so if you’re in the market or want to learn more about upcoming models, check out the interview below.

  

Blu Tuesday: Political Edition

The hits keep on coming this week with several more high-profile releases, but you better enjoy it now, because the next few weeks don’t look nearly as promising. In fact, there are so few quality Blu-rays hitting stores in late March/early April that I’ll either be skipping my column during those weeks, or I’ll combine them into one post. With that said, there’s plenty worth being excited about today, with such a heavy emphasis on politically-themed films and TV series that you’d almost think it was November again.

“Lincoln”

Steven Spielberg has been trying to make a movie about Abraham Lincoln for so long that it seemed like it might never happen. But after years stuck in development, his passion project finally got made, albeit with a different actor in the title role. Though Daniel Day-Lewis is certainly no slouch, the prospect of Liam Neeson reteaming with his “Schindler’s List” director was a lot more exciting. Nevertheless, Day-Lewis proves himself a more than adequate replacement as the 16th U.S. President, commanding the screen with a vigor that combats the film’s languid pace. His Lincoln is stubborn and stoic, but also witty when the mood permits, and though he was the only cast member to win an Oscar for his performance, the acting is top-notch all around, including fellow nominees Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, and James Spader as a slimy lobbyist. While the more bureaucratic scenes drag on for too long, they’re a big part of what “Lincoln” is all about and provide some of the film’s best moments. The movie does get a little too caught up in the intricacies of the political process at times, but it’s an engaging behind the scenes look at one of the country’s most historic moments.

Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy didn’t arrive in time, but some quick research shows that there are two versions of the Blu-ray available: a barebones two-disc edition with a pair of brief featurettes and a four-disc edition with an additional 65 minutes of bonus material. If you’re a history buff, or you just really like behind-the-scenes extras, go with the latter set. Otherwise, the two-disc version should suffice.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Giving HBO’s “Phil Spector” a spin

When it was announced that Al Pacino and David Mamet, who proved to be a formidable combination of actor and writer/director on 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” would be reteaming for HBO’s original movie about Phil Spector, reactions of giddiness and uncertainty seemed to be in equal measure. Sure, Mamet’s awesome, and he’s obviously proven that he can get a great performance out of Pacino, but surely there’s substantial chasm between the fiction of Ricky Roma and the reality of Phil Spector, isn’t there?

Actually, you might be surprised.

PhilSpector2

If you haven’t seen “Glengarry Glen Ross” recently, maybe you should see how Roma’s described on Wikipedia:

Although Roma seems to think of himself as a latter day cowboy and regards his ability to make a sale as a sign of his virility, he admits only to himself that it is all luck. He is ruthless, dishonest and immoral, but succeeds because he has a talent for figuring out a client’s weaknesses and crafting a pitch that will exploit those weaknesses. He is a smooth talker and often speaks in grand, poetic soliloquies.

Those who’ve read about Spector’s brusque, often downright crazed interactions with musicians in the studio, his turbulent relationship with ex-wife Ronnie Spector, and a notorious obsession with firearms which—no matter how you spin the story of the night a woman named Lana Clarkson ended up dead in his home—was directly responsible for his eventual incarceration will certainly see some immediate similarities between him and Roma. After seeing HBO’s “Phil Spector,” you will see even more of them. What you will not see, however, is a movie that matches “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

But, then, you probably didn’t expect that, anyway.

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App of the Week: Hater

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Developer: Hate App Inc.

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen. and up, iPad

Requires: iOS 4.0 or later

Price: Free

Negativity is a tricky concept.

On one hand, you can’t possibly be expected to like everything. Everybody gets irked by certain things, even if the majority of others seem to enjoy them. On the other, nobody wants to be “that guy.” The one whose just a real downer, or takes the wrong moment to publically express their dislike of something that is generally agreed upon, or even something in general.

Recognizing the cramped space your everyday hatreds are working with to run free, one developer has created an app that allows you a digital soapbox for which to air your grievances in “Hater.”

It’s billed as the “Anti-Facebook Like,” which is a perfect summary of its functionality and purpose. With Hater, you can use a combination of photos and text rants to sound off on the things that annoy you most and, much like the infamous like button, allow others to share your grievances with you.

While topics are of course endless, popular suggestions by the developers include annoying people, what your ex is up to, too many Facebook posts, duckface photos, long lines, celebrities, traffic, school and many more. So the mounds of hate don’t overwhelm you and lead you to the darkside, there is a handy function that shows you some of the most hated topics currently being disliked.

You don’t have to rack your brain to picture a world where this kind of thing can get out of hand pretty quickly, and have you hating on hater for all of the hate, but this is a concept that’s time has come. As anyone who has spent any time on internet message boards can tell you, the mobile world is filled with at least as many dislikes as likes, and an app that allows you a place to share that which you despise is a potentially therapeutic breath of fresh air.

For providing a playground of pessimism and serving as a champion of cynics, I’ve got nothing against giving Hater my app of the week.

  

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