Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The 2010 Ford Model Year Drive Event: Experiencing the latest from Ford Motor Company
Yesterday, I attended the 2010 Ford Model Year Drive Event at the company's headquarters in Dearborn, MI. At this event, I was able to drive many of the 2010 model-year vehicles, learn about the company's latest technologies, and see what the company is aiming for in the future. And although the event had a strong emphasis on the 2010 Taurus, it was said that many of the new technologies found in Ford's larger vehicles would be spread to all of the Ford offerings in the future.
The day started out with a short bus ride to the company's test track. On the way in, there were a variety of vehicles zooming around the high-banked track—including a couple of camouflaged Ford Fiesta sedan test mules. Perhaps endurance testing?
After our arrival at the Product Review Center (a LEED Silver certified building), we were greeted by several of Ford's execs who talked about the direction of the company with regards to new models, model changes, powertrain changes, and quality standards. As a fan of small cars, it was reassuring to hear that Ford has a commitment to large, medium, and small cars for the U.S. market. An emphasis was placed on the "freshening" of the model lineup, too. Ford acknowledged that it "takes time to reconvince customers" of their brand, but was confident in the direction in which the company is headed. After the short presentations, we broke up into four groups to begin the activities. First stop for my group: The steering and handling course.
Steering and Handling Course
The "steering and handling evaluation track" was the first of two Ford test tracks I would get to experience. This was a tight course with several elevation changes. I didn't have a chance to drive the Fiesta again, which was okay since I'd already done so. However, I was interested in the new-to-the-U.S. Transit Connect, and was able to ride in one.
Already on sale in Europe for some time, the Transit Connect is a smaller vehicle aimed at the commercial segment. About the length of a Ford Focus, but taller, the Transit Connect (which is launching as we speak ... er type), offers scads of usable interior space in a small package. It's perfect for the person/business that needs a vehicle smaller than a Dodge Sprinter or a pickup truck, but bigger than a typical hatchback. A full write up on the vehicle will be up shortly.
I also got a ride in a battery-electric Ford Focus. That's right—an all-electric Focus. It was just like any other Focus on the inside, although the gauges were different. This vehicle was said to have a range of 70-100 miles on a charge. It was, of course, whisper quiet, too.
I was able to drive a few versions of Ford's larger cars including the Fusion Hybrid, the Fusion Sport, the Ford Edge Sport, and the Mercury Milan. The Fusions are very nice vehicles, indeed, and I was thrilled to see Ford offering the four-cylinder Fusion with a manual transmission option. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to drive the Shelby GT500; but it sure sounded amazing.
Next stop: The Technology Tent. Here, Ford showcased some of its latest innovations, including its latest voice-activated SYNC with traffic, directions, and information; Adaptive Park Assist (e.g. the car parks itself); Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Warning systems; and the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS).
Although these technologies were showcased on the all-new 2010 Ford Taurus, the Fusion, and a few Lincoln vehicles, many of these features will eventually be available on Ford's smaller cars, such as the Fiesta and the Focus.
I was most impressed with the Collision Warning system, which uses a sophisticated radar in the bumpers to detect if a vehicle is getting too close for comfort. A series of tones and LEDs on the dashboard, which look similar to a third brake light (see image at right) notifies drivers of an upcoming obstacle ... like a car you're hoping NOT to hit. However, unlike its cousin, Volvo, the Ford products won't automatically apply the brakes. It's a technology Ford said its customers may not be ready to embrace yet. The crash-sensing radar monitors up to 600 ft. in front of the vehicle; it's pretty cool technology that Ford said might even be required on all cars in the future.
Next it was time for lunch with everyone, including some Ford execs. Even Ford CEO Alan Mulally stopped in (at left). It was interesting to talk with some of the Ford executives, as well as other media folk to get their take on what they'd seen during the first half of the day. Next stop: The EcoBoost Challenge.
The EcoBoost Challenge pitted several competing vehicles from other manufacturers against EcoBoost-equipped Fords. EcoBoost is what Ford is calling its newest engine family. The theory behind the EcoBoost is smaller displacement, turbo-charged powerplants that deliver better fuel economy and performance than larger, normally aspirated engines, while spewing fewer emissions. For example, the first offering, a 3.5-liter, direct-injection, twin-turbo V-6, will be offered in vehicles such as the new (and, IMHO, very attractive) Ford Tarus SHO, the Flex, and some Lincoln models. It's designed to produce V-8 power, too (ala 365hp in the SHO). So what's this have to do with small cars? We'll have to see.
Ford did announce a 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 engine (single turbo), most likely for the Fusion (possibly a hot Focus setup?). Officially, I couldn't get much info about a Fiesta with a small EcoBoost engine. Since the Fiesta hasn't launched yet, Ford was pretty hush-hush about engine options. However, a Ford representative did say that an EcoBoost-powered Fiesta was "more than just a rumor."
I did get to drive Ford Flex with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost and it did indeed scoot. (The seven-passenger Flex could be one of the best road-trip vehicles out there, by the way). I rode in an EcoBoost Taurus SHO, and it was damn quick. I drove a 2010 Mustang GT on the track, and I'm not going to lie: It was awesome and I want one. (I love lots of different cars, and love the sound of a lot of cars, but few cars sound as good to me as the Mustang GT!) Driving on the high-banked test track was a real trip. Entering the track was like playing Gran Turismo!
Quality and Powertrain
Last stop on the event was the quality and powertrain tent. Here, Ford discussed its latest push to produce a top-quality products. There were several experts in their fields, including automotive interior design, and component sound quality. Excuse me—"component sound quality?" Indeed, there is a person who specializes in things such as the sound the door makes when it closes. The sound of the warning chimes. The noise the shifter makes when moved. I found this fascinating, especially since I thought I was the only person who noticed the sound of a manual transmission's shifter. (I love the sound of my Suzuki SX4's shifter. I do not love the Kia Rio 5's.)
On the powertrain side of things, there was a lot of talk about the EcoBoost engines. Here Ford said the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four cylinder would produce 230 hp and 240 ft./lbs. of torque (yes please). As previously mentioned: No official word on an EcoBoost-powered Fiesta at this time.
There was also a lot of discussion regarding hybrids. Interesting fact: Ford currently offers the highest top speed in electric mode of any gasoline-electric vehicle at 47 mph. Additionally, Ford said it will have four electrified vehicles by 2012, including a Transit Connect battery-electric, the Focus battery-electric, a plug-in hybrid, and another vehicle. Maybe a hybrid Fiesta?
Overall, the experience was very cool. Lots of neat people, lots of cool technology, and a look into the future at Ford. The company definitely appears to be heading in the right direction with regards to its product offerings, quality control, technology, and environmental concerns. As you're probably aware, I am very much looking forward to the official launch of the 2011 Fiesta in about a year, and anticipate some of the company's latest technology trickling down to its small car offerings.