After receiving an invite from from a member of Ogilvy's outreach team [@BlakeBowyer] I did what Ford probably hoped all of us would do; I looked at their upcoming lineup for 2012. Now whether or not they did enough research to know we might be in the market for an electric-vehicle (EV), I'll never know.
After browsing Ford.com, I checked the Twitter feeds for the various Ford groups, searching for the Ford Focus in particular, as I had just learned about the forthcoming all electric model. You can probably guess what I did next. The responses to my tweet below were about the same as Ford's EV inventory for the event: zero. In their defense, some of Ford's PR reps and Ogilvy have already followed up, offering more test drive opportunities.
A big objective of Ford's event was of course to reach out and connect with real people. And like other outreach events, the science around the best way to do that and what benefits it brings to the business is a nut everyone's trying to crack. What's even tougher is when you try to bridge the offline and word-of-mouth (WOM) elements with all the stuff happening online. Organizations want to know who's associated with you and more importantly how you might influence their behavior or perspective.
For our exercise, I took the online component and used a social graphing tool from PeerIndex to look at what they call the "social capital" of the attendees. [Screenshot below]
For some context, you can see another curated group of sustainability professionals I met at a recent customer advisory panel at Dell. Interestingly enough, the indexes of both groups were almost identical.
I generated the tag cloud below by pulling in a few paragraphs from a recent Fortune/CNN piece by Ford's Executive Chairman, Bill Ford.
You could see Ford's focus [sorry] on sustainability peppered throughout its exhibition. Its EcoBoost vision along with some of the upcoming Hybrids were close by as we entered the show floor.
- Cleantechies highlighted some of Ford's green programs recently as it looked at broader initiatives from the auto industry.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"One of their biggest initiatives to date is the Greener Miles Program. There are two parts to this initiative. First, there is the TerraPass Program. In partnership with TerraPass, Ford owners are able to calculate the total sum of carbon dioxide their vehicle gives off while driving. Then they can buy a TerraPass between $30 and $80 annually and fund projects, including wind energy to decrease carbon dioxide emissions equaling the same sum as the vehicle. The second part is Eco-Driving. Ford provides information on driving habits and automobile maintenance that will conserve fuel, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and save the driver money."
The PR firm that ran the event locally was Bradford Public Relations, a firm that has offices in Dallas and San Antonio. I spent some time chatting with Liz Bradford about the opportunities for Ford and some other companies like eVgo, who's now owned by NRG Energy. She asked me about the upcoming Focus electric vehicle and how Ford might fair in a tight, early-adopter market.
One of the analogies I mentioned was the battles happening with new music products targeting the cloud. You have Apple, Google and Amazon, all trying to get products to market with the right set of features, selection and price. I don't think it's much of a stretch to compare that to the competition brewing in the EV sector between Ford, Chevy and Nissan. Two of them have launched products, with the the third arguably in the best spot to get it right. The "getting right" part is something Liz and I discussed further.
Here's a few thoughts:
* Ford will benefit from the Obama's goal of 1 million EVs on the road by 2015. As corporate and Federal fleets continue to get converted, U.S. automakers should benefit first. And that's a small list, especially ones with pure EVs.
*The car-as-a-platform approach is quickly gaining steam. That doesn't mean we need to push out a status update as we're driving, but connected cars should help with things like navigation, trip bookings and even things like Amber Alerts and severe weather.
Ford seems to have a leg up already as a tech-friendly choice because of its early innovations with Ford SYNC. That level of sophistication, coupled with eco-design should provide some lift with certain demographics, particularly GenY and Millenials.
I think it's fair to say there's a growing number of people questioning their means of transportation. It'll be important for automakers like Ford to realize many are less inclined to commute or even buy an automobile as car-sharing and collaborative consumption continue to emerge. In other words, how will your platform continue evolve with our changing cities and work environments?
*If we build on the platform concept, the supporting infrastructure also comes into play. Where will we plug in all these plug-ins?
Car-makers like Ford can only play wait-and-see for so long.
Arguably, Nissan already has an advantage as its charging stations are becoming hotspots in their own right. Take a look at the heat map below. You'll notice it's mostly Nissan dealerships if you zoom in closely. How does that figure into the mindset of someone in the market for an electric vehicle? Prominently, I'd guess.
As Ford and others watch this market and make bets on what the catalysts might be, they'll be watching more than $4 gallon gas.
The city of San Francisco's recent announcement is a good example of things to come. How about free charging in parts of the city through 2013? I pulled in some other stories below to illustrate how the EV ecosystem is evolving.
- I recall someone saying he was trying to show the Hook'em sign. [below]