Highlights of the 2014 North America International Auto Show
I just got back from Detroit where I attended the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). I was part of a select group of bloggers invited by Ford to participate in a digital summit. The program included an opportunity to see and test-drive some of the newest Ford vehicles, while also learning about the latest trends and technologies. This is a recap of my experience…
This was a short trip, so of course the F-150 had to stay behind while I boarded a plane to Detroit. After disembarking and making my way to the exit, there were Ford representatives directing the bloggers to the hotel…which was located inside the airport. Now, I’ve heard of hotels close to the airport, but never inside one. It was a Westin and was quite nice. After getting checked in and settled, it was down to the ballroom for a dinner event that included entertainment and libations. I ended up sitting at a table with fellow travel bloggers, Deb and Dave from The Planet D, whom I met at a travel blogger conference last summer and have been following for some time. Throughout the event, I discovered the bloggers in attendance were really a diverse mix—there were a handful of travel bloggers like me, as well as several in the environmental and technology space… and of course, automotive related.
During dinner we were treated to a lovely violin recital, followed by MOTH performances. Now, if you’re like me and you’re wondering what “MOTH” is—other than a pesky insect…it’s where a person tells true stories. It’s sort of like a poetry slam, but for stories. The stories told by the three performers were riveting, heart wrenching and extraordinary. There are MOTH performances in most major cities, so if you’re looking for something unique to do one evening, check it out. http://themoth.org
Our next day started very, very early…breakfast was served at 5:30am. We then boarded buses en route to Joe Louis Arena where we filed in for a Ford press conference. There must have been 1000+ journalists in attendance, compared to just over 100 bloggers. This was really an extraordinary press conference…the sheer size of the stage and displays was impressive. I guess it stands to reason, as they require room to bring the various cars on stage. The highlight of the press conference had to be the introduction of the all-new F-150, which has undergone a significant makeover…not so much in general aesthetics of the design, but rather the design of everything you don’t see. The most obvious change is in the weight of the vehicle…which is more than 700 lbs lighter. This weight reduction has been achieved by the use of a new high-strength aluminum alloy steel. Ford has not released mileage numbers for the new F-150, but you can bet that with this weight reduction, it will be a welcomed improvement.
After the press conference we headed over to the Ford Blue Oval Room, which is a very large space in the conference center where we bloggers hung out off and on for the better part of the day. There were a number of stations with representatives providing us information on the design process; a solar concept car, a driverless car (aka assisted driving) and a whole lot more. Suffice it to say, I have a brand new appreciation for what the automotive industry goes through before bringing a vehicle to market. In the center of the Blue Oval Room was a press area where Ford executives met with us to discuss a variety of topics in depth. The highlight may have been the Q&A session with CEO, Alan Mulally. (An interestingly side note: my step-mother used to work with Mr. Mulally when he was at Boeing—she even remarked that everyone knew he would go on to do big things in his life). I actually got to ask Mr. Mulally a question…it was: “How far off do you think the autonomous car is?” His answer (I’m paraphrasing an abbreviated reply): “Farther off than we think, the infrastructure and regulations needed are extensive. I think you will see incremental implementation over time.”
Later that day I had thought of a better question I wish I’d thought to ask Mr. Mulally. The technology being integrated into the vehicles of the future are astounding—so if I had it to do over, I would have asked about privacy. In the future, your vehicle will track EVERYTHING! The question will be…who owns that data? Will you be able to turn off the tracking. I did not think about it until later, but this is a very serious topic that we should be discussing. I imagine it will be just like the smartphone, where the conveniences will outweigh the desire for privacy. This data collection could be a significant financial boon for the automotive industry.
By mid-afternoon, Mike Richard of Vagabondish and I decided to stroll the show floor. We were both astonished by how extravagant the manufacturer booths were. The sheer size, scale and opulence was impressive. Technology was without a doubt a guiding theme of all the manufacturers. I prognosticate that the technology being implemented into the new cars could really spur a buying frenzy, one where buyers will be so enthralled with the latest and greatest that they have to upgrade sooner than they might really need. Consumers will see year-over-year technological advancements, choices and changes become big model year differentiators.
In the evening, we all gathered back in the Blue Oval Room once again, where we were treated to a twenty minute screening of the upcoming Hollywood movie, “Need for Speed-” starring Aaron Paul (Jesse of Breaking Bad fame) and the all new Ford Mustang. I can’t say the movie looked all that great, but it is without question action-packed. And, those who love car chase scenes…will not be disappointed.
After dinner and a number of libations, we all boarded buses back to the hotel. It would be another early morning, so off to bed I went.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed to Dearborn for some breakout sessions and road tests. Our home base for the day was the Dearborn Inn, a lovely and historic hotel built by Ford Motor Company back in 1931. The three-story, red-brick Dearborn Inn was built in a gracious and stately Georgian style. The balcony railings, elegant main entrance and arch-topped windows reflect 19th-century nostalgia.
The bloggers were split up into two groups, A and B. Group A, in which I was included was the first group to test drive some of the latest Ford Vehicles. The day before we were asked to fill out a form in which they would match our personalities with the perfect vehicle. I was matched with the Explorer Sport, which I was excited to drive. Unfortunately, there were quite a few other folks who matched that vehicle, and so within the limited time we had, I did not get a chance to drive it. I did however get an opportunity to cruise around in the Ford Flex with a young man (Mubarak) from Dubai who is a representative for Ford in the UAE. Mubarak was a wealth of knowledge…pointing out all of the latest technology build into the car, such as the side mirror lights that let drivers know when a car is in their blind spot, to the remote access/start system…allowing drivers to start the car from up to 325’ away. Each blogger was given a set of directions that allowed us to put the vehicles through real-world conditions, while at the same time seeing some highlights of the city, such as Comerica Park, which is home to the Detroit Tigers and our turn around point.
After our test drives, we headed to some of the breakout sessions. The highlight for me had to be a visit to one of the Ford facilities where we got a look (and got to participate) at a virtual reality (VR) department known as “The Cave,” where engineers can walk around, get inside and closely inspect every aspect of a vehicle. This was a really cool experience, where participants don a VR helmet, which transports the person into a virtual automotive world.
After a fantastic lunch at the Dearborn Inn, we eventually boarded buses that took us back to the Westin at the airport. After saying some goodbyes, I had a bit of time to kill before my flight, so I hung out in the Ford media lounge. When it was finally time for me to make my way to my gate, I merely walked through the lobby of the hotel through a dedicated TSA checkpoint. In just a matter of moments I was at the gate for my flight. Talk about convenience!
While it was a short trip, I simply had an incredible time…I’m so appreciative of the opportunity. A big “thank you” to all those at Ford who made this trip possible!