Special Coverage

2010 Convergence

DETROIT – Strong designs, attractive interiors and fuel-efficiency all are key factors in an auto maker’s success, but advanced “signature” technologies such as Sync and EcoBoost especially are playing an important role in Ford Motor Co.’s rising fortunes, says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president-global product development.

Speaking at the SAE Convergence 2010 here, an event that brings together the automotive and electronics industries, Kuzak singles out the Sync voice-activated multimedia system as a key technology that has padded Ford’s bottom line.

“After receiving a Sync demonstration, non-Ford owners showed a threefold increase in their willingness to consider buying a Ford,” Kuzak says, adding 32% of customers say Sync was an important part of their decision.

Advanced engines, transmissions and other features also are improving Ford’s reputation and brand awareness, accounting for a revenue increase of $3,300 per vehicle from 2008 to 2009, Kuzak says.

He boils down the increased revenue to three factors: An increasing number of features and options; a richer model mix, with more customers choosing premium features; and stronger overall pricing.

All these factors can be related back to technology, Kuzak says, most importantly, “signature” technology consumers notice. That’s leading Ford to a strategy that includes “simply having more technology than any other facing competitor with each new vehicle we launch.”

The new Ford Fiesta has what Kuzak calls “an unexpected level of technology” with many more features than competitors, and that trend will continue with all next-generation Ford vehicles.

For instance, the MyFord Touch connectivity system currently showcased in the luxury Lincoln MKX eventually will find its way into about 80% of Ford vehicles over the next five years, he says, including the next-generation Ford Focus when it debuts next year.

MyFord Touch builds on the capabilities of Sync, which allows voice-activated use of MP3 players and Bluetooth-equipped cell phones. The feature gives consumers greater control over vehicle functions such as climate, audio and navigation while also minimizing driver distraction.

The system, along with Lincoln and Mercury versions, uses reconfigurable displays and an increased number of voice commands.

However, Kuzak makes it clear to attendees here that Ford does not expect to develop all these new technologies internally.

“We recognized from the start that if we were to move with the speed of the electronics industry, as our automotive customers rightfully expected, we needed to work together with a new set of partners,” he says.

Kuzak is looking for ways to deepen relationships with suppliers to create joint efforts and new products that will keep up with the pace of change in the consumer products industry.

Access to the Internet now currently is limited in vehicles, he points out, and he’s interested in finding ways to make in-car access more useful to the driver.

“Imagine an app called Drivers’s Ed that pulls up hyper-local traffic and accident data and in effect creates ‘talking traffic signs,’” Kuzak says, noting such technology could give advance information on traffic conditions or dangerous intersections.