Ford has announced that it will invest $4.5 billion to expand its electrified vehicle solutions program through 2020, a layout that the company says is its largest ever for electric vehicles in a five-year period.
The program, which includes the introduction of the new Focus Electric fast-charge (80% charge in about 30 minutes, per Ford, with a 100-mile range), which goes into production late next year. There will be another 13 electrified vehicles by the end date; Ford says that more than 40% of its global nameplates will be electrified by then.
As part of this acceleration into plug-ins, Ford says it will ramp up customer experience around these vehicles and will also change its product development process.
“The challenge going forward isn’t who provides the most technology in a vehicle but who best organizes that technology in a way that most excites and delights people,” said Raj Nair, EVP, product development, in a statement. “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.”
The automaker says it is doing a global "social science-based" research program to get a bead on how consumers are likely to respond to vehicles like these, and gain "new insights into the cognitive, social, cultural, technological and economic nuances that affect product design."
Said Nair: “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.” He says the company will reach out to anthropologists, sociologists, economists, journalists and designers, and will augment that with business process to rethink product development.
Specifically, the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker says next year it is doubling the number of projects that use ethnographic research versus this year. Ford has been using social-science strategy firm ReD to do an assist in areas like the future of luxury transport, how consumers relate to their vehicles, and "the role of trucks in the American heartland." Ford said ReD started with the automaker three years ago to study vehicle users in more than 25 cities worldwide: 80,000 photos, nearly 3,000 hours of video and more than 8,000 pages of field notes, per Ford, all toward insights around product development.