Drones and yoga on Ford’s hip list – Detroit Free Press
In a world gripped by fear and terror, Ford sees hopeful trends in people gravitating to inner peace, unplugged moments and airport yoga.
GoFundMe campaigns, meditation rooms in unlikely places and delivery by drone are among the trends the automaker has identified in its 2016 trends report, an annual snapshot of what is hip and compelling in the world and is shaping our lives. It is an initiative led by futurist Sheryl Connelly, who has helped Ford identify trends for the past 12 years.
“2016 is about picking yourself back up,” said Connelly, who is technically Ford’s chief of Global Consumer Trends and Futuring.
When she started, Connelly’s observations were considered proprietary, and the macro trends were talked about in hushed tones as Ford tried to design its cars and their features around what consumers sought.
The trends became more pointed and drew in more outsiders with global workshops. Four years ago, the decision was made to make them public. The latest report will be released Monday, and work has already begun on next year’s findings.
Looking for patterns in 2015, Connelly saw a lot of bad news including economic uncertainty, terrorist attacks, fallen idols such as Bill Cosby and the world soccer organization, all of which could leave one disillusioned.
But for every trend there is a counter trend, Connelly said, and people have fought back with meditation and yoga rooms in airports, embracing everyday heroes for inspiration and becoming more tolerant and resourceful overall. They are putting down their devices for short periods and developing a stronger sense of identity. And they are trying to spread goodwill and pay it forward. Stories most often shared on Facebook are uplifting, positive and inspiring.
GoFundMe campaigns in 2015 saw 6 million people donate $470 million to help friends, neighbors and total strangers. In Detroit, more than $350,000 was raised for James Robertson, a man who walked 21 miles a day to work and back.
It is part of a trend of recognizing heroes at work and in our community at a time when more than two-thirds of Americans are disillusioned with civic leaders and politicians.
Ford is not in business to be magnanimous. Knowledge of each trend is incorporated into the automaker’s long-term strategy and philosophy.
It helps explain why a company that sells cars is engrossed in projects involving bicycles and car-sharing concepts that seemingly would lead to fewer car sales.
Ford can watch the Ubers and Teslas of the world take over, or it can try to reinvent itself.
Analyst Brian Johnson of Barclays forecasts that consumers who buy cars just to get from point A to point B will get out of the market and rely instead on autonomous cars and vehicle-sharing services. He estimates the trend to cost almost 11 million annual sales in the U.S. and be replaced by a 3.8-million vehicle market for fleets of pooled vehicles.
And while the mass market shrinks in volume by about 65% and switches to less-profitable fleet sales, “it’s nevertheless important for (automakers) to move now or risk becoming the Kodak of autos,” Johnson said.
Among the 10 microtrends Ford identified this past year, the most surprising to Connelly was one she calls “mindfulness,” in which people are trying to live in the moment and give themselves the time and space to breathe, reflect and regroup even if it means using the yoga room at the airport.
Yoga and meditation are helping train soldiers for stressful missions, calm businessmen in Japan and lower the recidivism rates of Swedish prisoners.
Other trends include:
- The “Swiss army life” trend is the rising emphasis on self-reliance, as evidenced by the tiny home movement; the BauBax jacket with gloves in the sleeves and a pillow in the hood; and a way to retrofit your toilet to double as a sink. People are drawn to multi-functional products, which Ford sees as one reason why consumers are forgoing cars for utility vehicles, Connelly said. And they intend to keep the same vehicle for 10 years instead of a three-year lease. For millennials, it means the vehicle must be functional enough to get them through their first job and apartment to marriage and the start of a family.
- “Time poverty” recognizes we are in a 24/7 economy, always connected. We spend 4.7 hours a day on our smartphone and 47% of young people check their e-mail after hours. We are developing problems such as “text neck” and the resulting poor posture can reduce lung capacity by 30%. But people are beginning to resent being constantly on call, Connelly said. “They want to take back time.” Relief is in the form of apps that track your device habits and schedule time off. Ford has a “do not disturb” feature on the Sync infotainment system to help create the image of the car as a sanctuary.
- “The EZ life” envisions artificial intelligence as a concierge to keep us stocked with goods delivered by drone, a mobile workplace courtesy of driverless cars, a jacket with built-in navigation so you don’t get lost and a button on your dishwasher to order more soap.
- “In awe of aging” notes we are living longer, and seniors are defying stereotypes by running marathons at 101 and having babies at 70. Driving assist technologies and eventually autonomous vehicles provide mobility, especially for baby boomers who created the car culture and still want the ability to go where they want.
- “Fit for misfits” tosses out the idea of one size fits all and celebrates being different and standing out. We celebrate contrarians, same-sex marriage, Caitlyn Jenner and the right for women to call themselves “curvy” on Instagram.
- “Waste not, want not” is society finding creative ways to recycle including a shoemaker in Uruguay accepting plastic bottles as currency, dissolving food packaging and Ford’s use of soy for seat foam, wheat for plastic parts, blue jeans for carpet insulation and tomatoes for wiring brackets.
- “Buying into the flexible economy” is evidenced by more freelance work and flexible schedules, car sharing services and meetings via Skype to avoid the strictures of an office and a commute.
- “Retail revolution” focuses on the shopping experience. Consumers will pay more for better displays and services even as they are more purposeful in their purchases since the recession. Burberry’s flagship store in London has interactive mirrors, and Japan has a virtual mannequin that wears the item you choose from the rack. Ford is exploring beacons on cars in the showroom. Shoppers with the proper app can get notifications on their phone about the features. The side mirror sensor, for example, can tell you about blind spot detection. “It is in the exploration stage now,” Connelly said. “We think it is an opportunity to make engagement richer.”
“Customers are more savvy than ever today, and meeting their needs is challenging,” Connelly said.
Contact Alisa Priddle: 313-222-5394 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlisaPriddle.