Ford’s Test and Development Center
As you might expect, our group got a lot of speeches from Ford representatives. The one that stuck out in my mind though came from Sue Cischke, Vice President of Sustainability. Cischke spoke to us at Ford’s test track, where we learned about the Blue Oval’s sustainability efforts world wide, and the challenges both the company, and the human species face. Ford touted its own success with water reclamation technology, lowering its overall global energy use through use of sustainable and better business practices. Indeed, Ford did a great job of making themselves look…great.
While I didn’t get to ask my particular question (something about how will automakers make cars lighter while adding more and more technology) my colleagues did ask some pretty enlightening questions. One in particular had to do with mass transit, and apparently while Ford isn’t looking to jump into this field anytime soon, they have given it some thought. Interesting.
After the speech, some of us were ushered outside to the test track, where I saw my prize; an EcoBoost F-150. Alas, it was not meant to be, as I was herded along to a different set of vehicles which mostly consisted of Fiesta’s and Fusion Hybrids. So I know this was supposed to be about green technology, but of all the great vehicles Ford makes, and of all the awesome vehicles they showed off at the show, the best they could come up with were some Fusions and Fiestas? Lame.
Sure, there was an Explorer and a Taurus SHO (which I made an immediate beeline for) thrown in for good measure, and it was a bit silly of me to expect them to put a Mustang or even a Focus Electric out on the field for us to play with. Honestly though, I was hoping for more. If I wanted to test drive a Fiesta, I’d go down to a dealership. But I was one a race track! I wanted to have a car that could be pushed…like that EcoBoost F-150. I never got a chance to drive the EcoBoost F-150, as snowy conditions made the track unfit for a bunch of bloggers to drive around. Nuts. At least the SHO was fun.
While Ford had many plans for that day, the wintery weather threw a metaphorical wrench into our plans.
Before we were collectively carted off to the airport, however, my group got to go check out the VIRTTEX safety simulator. Think of it like a flight simulator, but for cars. This $12 million piece of machinery had an old Taurus X at the center of it, and was designed to test out things such as driver fatigue, distraction, and ways to prevent accidents. After a brief introduction to the system, the engineers asked if there was a volunteer who wanted to pilot the machine. My hand shot up right away, and sure enough I was picked to “drive” the simulator. Booyah!
With 12 feet of articulation in any direction, I can honestly say that in just about every way, this feels like a genuine driving experience. The device has been used to study ways to prevent drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, or to warn them of impending doom. I got a taste of this by being put through a test. I was asked to read numbers off of a monitor in the center console. The numbers took just three seconds to flash on screen and I had to read them aloud. As I was reading the third set of numbers, suddenly a warning bell rang and a flashing light lit up just above my instrument gauge. A virtual truck had slammed to a stop in front of me! I stomped the brakes and just barely avoided a virtual accident. My Ford co-pilot seemed impressed, as was I. This system, if it works in the real world, might actually save lives.
Other systems they showed me were a variety of lane departure warning systems, some that beeped, some that blinked, and others that bumped the seat. I can now understand how such a system could be useful; I also want one to hook up to my Xbox (hey, a guy can dream.)
After that, it was time to return home. While my flight was delayed and we sat on the runway for over an hour, I did manage to make it home just in time for another blizzard to wallop New England. Again, I’d like to thank Ford for giving us an opportunity to be there; next time I go to Detroit, I hope to do so on my own dime. But with the connections I made, and the info I learned, I’ll be able to provide you, my readers, with some awesome content in the coming months.
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to Hemis. You can follow his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout.