Ford, which is ponying up — so to speak — $4.5 billion to expand its electric-vehicle and mobility programs, is probably looking to tease out some social and economic trends driving consumer behavior today, tomorrow, and next decade. Ford and everyone else. But Ford's third annual Trends Report is out, so Ford it is.
Oh, recycle the report, because one of the trends the report identifies is “waste not want not.” Reduce, reuse, repair, recycle. Take trash out and bring value in.
There’s nothing shocking about the findings therein, but it’s worth being reminded of what you probably know, even if implicitly. How about, for instance, the general disillusionment with political leaders, for which a certain fusion of Falstaff and Torquemada can thank his stars this election cycle.
More to the point, since Ford is serious about social anthropology, and not for idle chatter: People are seeking products that will last and will continue to be useful because they are designed to be highly adaptable and flexible, addressing what the report calls the “Swiss Army life.” The study finds that 76% of adults in the U.S intend to keep a car at least 10 years. The average used to be around four.
Says Sheryl Connelly, Ford's global head of consumer trends, and the automaker’s in-house futurist (the best job ever?), “We think consumerism is moving toward fewer goods with greater quality, versatility and durability.” She tells me that the versatility and diversity of crossovers is as much of a driver for their popularity as cheap gas prices. “We look at the popularity of utility vehicles among millennials; they expect to have that vehicle through several life stages, and want to invest wisely.”
How about time poverty, which has huge implications for the auto business, which, in spite of its conveniences, is also a huge time suck. The study from Ford says nearly half of adults under 35 feel compelled to check their work email in off hours. And 48% of Americans say staying on top of social media is starting to feel like a full-time job.
The average American spends 4.7 hours on their smart phone, to the extent that there is, evidently, a disease called Text Neck. “There is growing resentment about it,” says Connelly. “People under 35 feel more compelled to check in with work than over 45s, and most people resent having to check in after hours and on weekends.”
Autonomous cars will at least free up some of that time. And Ford's study says 84% of Indians, 78% of Chinese, and only 40% of Americans said they can see themselves buying such a vehicle.
Enter the freelance-economy trend, the acknowledgement of which has gotten automakers, including Ford, to try different forms of partnerships with individual designers and tech types. Ford doubled down investment in Silicon Valley with an advanced research center there, where, as Connelly, points out, tenure is short by choice, as it is the nature of that hummingbird work culture to stop by and leave after a project. “It means we are seeing a whole new slew of people who wouldn't have been drawn to a car company.”
Ford's trend study also points to shifting expectations at retail, with 48% of U.S. consumers saying they will buy more from a retailer who personalizes the shopping experience. Ford says it is using beacon technology at dealerships to do something similar, where consumers near vehicles get educational pop up notifications on product features (if they download the shopping app.)
Ford has also, for years, been vocal about its use of non-plastic and bio-based materials in cars for years. That doesn't sell cars, but the study did find that 60% of adults under 35 said they feel guilty about the amount of waste they generate, and 62% of Americans say they favor products that are made from recycled content. Never underestimate the power of guilt.