Ford's sweeping car redesign packs a lot of IT

Ford revealed its major redesign of the automobile this week with the Evos concept car. The design includes deep integration of IT and the cloud.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally loves tech. As an engineer at Boeing, he led the cockpit design on the 757/767, which introduced a lot of digital innovations in commercial aircraft. He later become Boeing's Vice President of Engineering and eventually the CEO, before taking the CEO job at Ford in 2006. Since his arrival at the iconic-but-struggling Detroit automaker, Mulally has proven himself to be the quintessential product guy by focusing the company around Ford's core brands and getting his team fired up about the goal of making the best cars in the world in every class.

However, cars have very long product cycles. It takes years to introduce new features, and even longer to redesign a vehicle. Mulally was able to push things like Ford Sync and MyFord Touch into various Ford models in recent years, but now his full vision for the future of Ford vehicles is finally coming into play with this week's unveiling of the Ford Evos — the car that sets the direction of Ford's global strategy for the next five years.

The Evos is a plug-in hybrid that's roughly the same dimensions as today's mid-size Ford Focus. However, the new design gives it the look of a sports car much more than a typical mid-size sedan for the masses. The concept vehicle, which will officially debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show on September 15-25, even includes gull-wing doors like the ones from the DeLorean DMC-12 in Back to the Future. While these won't likely make it into the final vehicle, they make a nice showpiece.

However, the most significant part of the Evos is all of the IT that Ford is building into the design. My colleague Andrew Nusca over at SmartPlanet wrote up an excellent summary of 10 of the tech advances in the Evos:

  1. Seamless connectivity between the vehicle and the driver's "personal cloud‟ of information, from home to office to car.
  2. That information includes the driver's work schedule, local traffic or weather conditions and other pertinent information to a trip.
  3. The car can therefore detect and "know" the driver and automatically adapt handling, steering, suspension and powertrain systems to the person's habits or to the immediate road ahead.
  4. It can monitor the physical state and workload of the driver and adjust the driving experience accordingly.
  5. It can automatically play the same music or news program that was just streaming at home.
  6. It can heat or cool the interior to an ideal temperature before the driver gets in, using a predicted departure time, rather than an explicit request.
  7. Wireless communication abilities allow the car to close the garage door and switch off the lights automatically as it pulls away.
  8. The car's cloud-based abilities can offer driving recommendations via social media networks and even reset your alarm clock if a morning meeting is cancelled.
  9. A heart-rate monitoring seat, allergy-free interiors, location-aware air quality sensors, filtration systems and a situationally-aware instrument panel (displays only necessary gauge information) round out the brainpower.
  10. Underneath the hood, a lithium-ion plug-in hybrid powertrain borrowed from the Ford C-Max Energi makes it happen. (Why hybrid and not all-electric? So it can achieve a range of 500 miles.)

It's also significant that Ford chose to reveal the future direction of its vehicles using a mid-size electric hybrid as the concept car. In 2008, Alan Mulally said, "Everybody says you can't make money off small cars. Well, you'd better damn well figure out how to make money because that's where the world is going."

Below, take a look at the photos and design drawings of the Evos (click the images for more photos) and then see Ford's three-and-a-half-minute promotional video.

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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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