As with other automakers, Ford is looking ahead to the year 2020 by investing another $4.5 billion in electrification.
The plans revolve around the addition of 13 new electrified vehicles by the end of the decade, including a new Focus Electric (going into production late in 2016) with new DC fast-charging capability that will take its depleted batteries to 80% charge (an estimated 160 km range) in about a half hour.
The new Focus Electric will again feature the technology to keep drivers aware of what their cars are doing, with features such as SmartGauge with EcoGuide LCD Instrument Cluster (customisable displays that help the driver see real-time electric vehicle power usage) and Brake Coach (to maximize the energy captured through regenerative braking).
The company estimates that more than 40% of its nameplates will have electrified versions by the year 2020, and part of that target is research and development into energy storage solutions.
“Batteries are the life force of any electric vehicle, and we have been committed to growing our leadership in battery research and development for more than 15 years,” said Kevin Layden, director, Ford Electrification Programs.
Ford is hoping to expand its global reach through expansion in Europe and China to accelerate battery technology research and development for new markets. The company uses a virtual testing environment it calls Hardware in a Loop (HIL), which allows the global team to test how batteries and control modules behave in different environments in any part of the world.
But the company also wants to ensure drivers are properly served and enjoying their vehicles, especial electric ones that are often criticized for putting function ahead of style.
“The challenge going forward isn’t who provides the most technology in a vehicle but who best organises that technology in a way that most excites and delights people,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s executive vice president, Product Development and the company’s chief technical officer. “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.”
That’s the reasoning behind Ford’s investment in more social-science based research, to observe and understand how people interact with their vehicles in order to design products better in cognitive, social, cultural and economic senses, in addition to the technological expectations.
“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,” Nair said. “This new way of working brings together marketing, research, engineering and design in a new way to create meaningful user experiences, rather than individually developing technologies and features that need to be integrated into a final product.”
Among the areas the team of social scientists are exploring are luxury in vehicles, the relationships people have with their vehicles, and the roles trucks play in North American driving. And designers no longer just sketch out vehicles, but rather produce customer-experience illustrations (story-boards, if you will), detailing a user journey.
“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,” concluded Nair. “We are considering the way customers interact with our vehicles as a unified experience, looking for ways to excite and delight customers and make their lives better.”