Emerging Tech investigate

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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About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

178 comments
MattInSD73
MattInSD73

I want this concept, not some dumbed down, middle-americanized, 4 door familicanized car for the masses. I was so excited to see the chevy volt come to market - until I saw it come to market. What a disappointment in style..

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Those of us with greater than average height are continually whacking our heads on them.

mark
mark

you???d better damn well figure out how to make money because that???s where the world is going.??? NOT ME I just want all of this stuff in a decent truck. I already drive a Ford truck and it has Sync but it is nothing like what they describe here. We pretty much lost the auto industry the last time they listened to our government and started creating small cars not many wanted. Here we go again remember the government knows best and you will buy what they want you to buy.

Larry Huisingh
Larry Huisingh

It seems that the side mirrors are extremely small vertically. I thought that perhaps they were cameras but the video seemed to show a reflective surface. Any thoughts?

curtis
curtis

I love the brainstorms they have in this car. However, we don't want our car to be the center of home automation -- because when the car breaks or wears out, you're out the center of your automation experience. You want that to be in your home, and the car can just participate in it.

petepratt
petepratt

Well, hell. I just want a vehicle to take me where I want to go, not a computer center on wheels. There's no Ford in my future.

joncowden
joncowden

They will use this "Cloud" technology, paired with Google Maps database, and a more fine-toothed road geography, and this car will be driving itself soon... Great.. All we need is another device hooked up to personal information that can be compromised and breached.... Good thought.... #sike

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

at least 7 of the 10 ideas are so silly and unnecessary to the driving experience that it makes you wonder if Ford will do better in the future. They need to concentrate on the driving dynamics, not the electronic gizmos that have nothing to do with driving. What is worse is that they will probably want to charge thousands extra for all these "features" that can be accomplished with a smart phone that costs a tiny fraction of the cost. Reminds me of current NAV systems that cost $2k from the car manufacturer but work no better than a $200 handheld unit.

&ltDTECH;
&ltDTECH;

AMAZING...this is really innovative...its nothing but great.....cheers to FORD...

DOSlover
DOSlover

Either my eyes are getting dull with age or those drawings look remarkably similar to the body shape of the current Aston Martin's, which is no bad thing! Lose the hybrid clutter and stick a decent engine and fuel tank into it and all will be well. If they want to make somnething really impressive they will have a hydrogen cell or something comparable to really demonstrate sustainability along with range and performance. Nice look but as with computers, I was to see what makes it move.

rjsheppard
rjsheppard

As a concept car, this is WILD. As a practical family car this is silly. Imagine getting out of this car with two kids in a rain or snow storm!!!! It's going to fill up quickly!!!! As a concept it's really quite visionary, practicality-wise it's short sighted. Are all those electronics water proof!!!!!..........?

SpiritualMadMan
SpiritualMadMan

The police are refusing to verify that when they first approached the accident scene the on board computer was in the process of doing a memory dump. (Page 48 of 64 in fact) Subsequent investigation revelade to error logs indicate that a BSOD did in fact occur 90 seconds before impact locking out the steer by wire, accelration by wire and brake by wire controls.

gormark
gormark

I agree with other "as few options as possible" drivers. I don't want to pay Ford's crappy navigation systems $1000 as an option when a $50 GPS does a job vastly superior to anything Ford engineers can even dream of. I will choose my own music to play, no stupid, poorly executed Rhapsody-rip-offs to beef up the price by another $1500. My doctor will take care of my heart, Ford won't get another $2000 for that idiotic idea. The more Ford works in this direction, the more attractive all other cars look - particularly non-American.

gormark
gormark

If it remains like it is now in their Escape Hybrid that I bought driven by some unusual and cruel punishment from God, and it most certainly will, it's going to be yet another bad joke about engineering. Ford is a disaster. THE most boring, dull, dumb cars on Earth, and the much touted Sync is, true to Miserosoft's legacy, a complete bug-infested flop when it comes to integration with iPod and iPhone - perhaps the two are not common enough on the market? The only thing Ford is capable of is manufacturing rabidly overpriced pieces of junk that somehow manage to handle the minimum functionality and do so using a little less gas than others. I made the mistake of buying an American piece of crap this one time and it's not happening again.

TommyManse
TommyManse

I think it would be awesome to have the EVOS come to production the way it is being shown as a concept car. Some people don't like adding technology to cars, and they can buy chevy, but FORD has always been an innovator in the automotive industry. The fact is without challenging the norm, you can't grow an industry, and we all know that the automotive industry needs to move forward with gas being constantly over $3.30 a it's lowest per gallon, Americans need to beat the oil "companies" into the ground. I am a lifetime FORD fan, and hope they lead us to petrolium free pratical vehicles. Who complained when the RX7 featured a suspension light to tell you when you got a flat tire? Also, you don't have to configure the car to automatically reset your alarm, or decide what power distribution features for you, but it's going to be there for those who want to move forward. Just make sure you leave the cool delorean doors when it gets to production, or at least leave it as an option.

bobbreeze
bobbreeze

I live in Austin Texas and we have had the hottest summer on record. When a vehicle sits in 100 to 108 degree weather the internal vehicle temperature reaches the external temperature plus. I believe that it would not be to difficult to incorporate a circuit into your climate control to keep an exhaust fan (possibly an existing fan running backwards) to keep the internal temperatures down to a bearable level when the vehicle is left unattended. To keep from discharging the battery, a supplementary electrical source of a photovoltiac nature would further the "green" aspect of your vehicle, especially since the sun would be the reason for the problem. This idea should be implemented on every car in your production line, as well as in your concept vehicles. Another idea that occurred to me is using cameras instead of mirrors. incorporating 180 degree rearward camera vision presented on digital dashboard, so driver does not have to turn his head to see his blind spots, but merely move his eyes down and back up see his rearview and blind spots, which is much safer. This could be cross coupled with auditory proximity warning and avoidance braking, steering, throttling, traction, gearing, passenger weight/position sensing, air bag deployment, GPS/first care responder notification and VOX redundant computer system, as well as recorded in a "black box" solid state device for later "fault" determination for safety improvements and causal analysis. This would not require a lot of changes since the computer already controls a lot of the systems involved and the computer can be reprogrammed to record/control the existing systems and program and incorporate new control systems at a later point, until you have a fully functional system in each of your concept cars and in each of your production vehicles which will increase the worth of your production vehicles immensely, thus giving you a great advantage in the marketplace.

techrep
techrep

I use to work at Ford. I was one of the leads on the Ford SYNC project and I can comment that much of this technology is a bit of vapor ware at this time. Ford's back end IT systems are not set up to handle such technology. Ford heavily relies on 3rd party integrators (BSquare who ran out of money, Inrix who has out of date traffic compared to Google which is free, the list goes on). Keep in mind that Ford rarely deals with end customers. You mostly visit a dealership for car purchase and car problems. Car dealerships are not IT shops and this presents a significant problem in terms of supporting such systems. I saw this first hand when I was employed at Ford. I worked as one of the architects of the Ford SYNC system and I was constantly tasked & challenge with gluing things together to make sure we protected end user data, complied with security goals, and responded quickly to user complaints while trying to keep users out of the dealerships for IT/SYNC problems . For example, updating your SYNC system today requires a nasty download process from the syncmyride.com web site. If you brick the module, re-Flashing the SYNC module requires disassembly of the dashboard and a complicated thumb drive preparation. Short & Sweet, this fortune 5 company is really not setup, internally, to deliver on these claims in the near future without a lot of external help! It will be ripe with problems... A better system is GM OnStar. I left Ford to work for GM and I am very close to both technologies. Sync, for example, has no push technology like OnStar has. You can't use a smart phone to start your car remotely. SYNC uses a polling method. Additionally, Ford Works, a system geared more toward fleet management, was not based on SYNC either. So you also have groups within Ford that are fragmented and trying to get them to work together takes an act of congress... So while this is exciting, I won't be holding my breath and I won't be a guinea pig. Want more proof? Just check out the SYNC message board and view the complaints if you want more proof this company is struggling with their choice of technology (Windows CE and Adobe Flash) and how to support it.

coldbrew
coldbrew

I like the tech built into the Ford's. I am a Systems Admin so I like the Sync features that my 2009 Ford F150 has. There are some issues but it is a good start. I wish we had spent the extra money and got the touch screen navigation. Maybe next time. I think Ford has done a great job with innovation and letting those that choose to have their vehicle "integrate" with their lives. Like it or not, for most of us, this is what our world is comeing to. Everything is connected in some way, shape, or form. Remember when they said floppy drives are going away...well now they are saying desktops are going by the way side. We'll see.

Repeal
Repeal

Did Ford market research determine this is the kind of vehicle the American people want? Or is the hybrid a result of stricter CAFE standards from Uncle Sam? I have read articles suggesting hybrids are not selling well since the downturn.

Bodragon
Bodragon

I think I'll just send my car to work in the future when I'm feeling ill. I'm sure they won't know the difference.

cwr64
cwr64

You young folks want a car that looks really cool - and that's fine. But I believe that the majority of us want a car that's really cheap to buy and use, but doesn't feel cheap. And cheap to use means that its parts don't break for many years. I'm fine with a hybrid, but it has to be able to go hundreds of miles and it has to cost under $20,000. I don't need or want a bunch of electronic junk that is a pain to set up and then breaks down in normal use - like today's PC's.

SpiritualMadMan
SpiritualMadMan

The more we rely on Computers, especially those external to the vehicle the more VULNERABLE the vehicle becomes to outside hacking and cracking, emp, immobilization techniques, etc. I know there are many gains to be had to with computers onboard. And, I appreciate those gains... But, to give Microsoft, or any other entity potential controlling access of *my* vehicle... Forget it! Call me old fashioned, but, I really don't trust Microsoft, the car companies, or the Government to consider my best interests. Oh, BTW, your Warranty has expired... Your car is disabled... Time to buy a new one... And, eveything is in epoxy-cast to prevent end-user tampering (AKA repairs). At least that's the way the IT industry has been going for years... Until the systems are hardened against emp, and the end user has the ability to turn off integrated on board tracking systems... NOT FOR ME...

umar185
umar185

a suggestion to ford would be to include a special jacket worn by the driver having embedded sensors to detect body condition over all, jacket be attached to the seat acting as a safety belt as well.

sh10453
sh10453

Concept vehicles always show features that do not go into production. This is not new, or limited to Ford or any other car maker. For those who are into the "business" of making flat statements I must say that I never leased or owned a US vehicle until 1992. Prior to that, I only owned German vehicles, including VW, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. In 1992 I started leasing Ford vehicles (the first was a 1993 model year Taurus), and I leased a different Ford product every 2 years after that, including Tauruses, Expedition, Explorers, and F150. I never encountered a problem with any of these vehicles over the years, except one time, where an ABS sensor failed when the temperature in Michigan winter dipped below Minus 20 degrees (F). Actually it turned out that it was not the sensor itself, but rather the toothed gear cracked. So it is not fair to continue bashing Ford because they built poor products in the 80's. Everybody built poor products in the past. Now for this vehicle, I am not in favor of so much technology to be built in a car. Service would be quite expensive, and it's probably will be a nightmare for the Quality Engineering department. When you have so much technology, the potential for failure is very high. The other issue is the average driver. Most drivers are not electrical & computer engineers. Imagine your grandmother, mother, daughter who flips burger at a fast food place, ..., etc., trying to utilize such technology. I know a number of people (friends, neighbors, & family) who own newer Ford vehicles, and do not use a fraction of the technology already in their vehicles. Many of them are not even aware of many of the features. I want to say briefly, that I agree that the driver should have the ability to override any electronic control feature. Sensors can fail for various reasons, and we can't totally depend on them to slow or stop a vehicle when approaching a stationary object. Failure can be physical (to the sensor, to the wiring, blocked by any object, etc.), or data processing related. Let's hope for a rational balance, and that technology would be used wisely, and where it makes sense & benefits the customer, not just a pile of gimmicks. Laptops, notebooks, pads, and smart phones are already in almost everyone's possession (at least the technically oriented people), and these features are not really needed to be duplicated in a car.

richard.warren
richard.warren

Why a concept car? I'd but it right now, as is! Let's talk finance...;-)

whawn
whawn

There is no way on God's Earth that I want a car hooked to the 'cloud.' I'm not even real thrilled with the idea of a 'puter running my carburetor, et al. Once upon a time, I had a chipped japanese car in the middle of 80 mph Denver rush hour quit dead, because the alternator failed. No warning, no idiot lights. The chip detected a low battery voltage condition and *shut off the car*; not even the hazard lights worked. I was in the middle lane of a five-lane and my wife and I survived only by luck. And, just out of curiosity, when did a sub-compact become a mid-size car?

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

Funny! A friend of mine makes his sole income by getting cheap cars that need a little work and after fixing them up he sells them on the side of the road. He can't pay his rent selling big cars, but any small car he puts out sells fast. It looks like the area where he lives, MPG is the highest priority. People in this area care more about that than a few dings in a door. He sometimes will put in a stereo or do something nice, but it usually doesn't help make his cars sell any faster. So now he only does that if there's a hole in the dash where a radio used to be. The smaller the car, the faster it sells. And usually for a few dollars more.

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

on this prototype are just for looks. They were made to be nice to look at, not to look into.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

It leaves a massive hole in each side of the vehicle where Intrusion is possible. One of the big things with current generation Doors is the reinforcement that needs to be built in to prevent Side Intrusion. With what is effectively a Flexible Outer Skin that goes under the vehicle you have an issue with meeting Government Regulation relating to Side Intrusion. ;) Col

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Would work for car show needs for exposing the interior - except if the manufacturers want all of the frame parts to remain visible - which they might.

JCitizen
JCitizen

of a foreign design. I agree that Ford missed the boat on it; but at least it was one way to get a 30 mph vehicle that was larger in size than most high mileage vehicles, and at least reasonably priced. I would be interested to know if you average mileage was any where near what EPA had it rated at?

JCitizen
JCitizen

I never could rubber neck well enough to see behind me; with this thing I can even assure children aren't hiding behind my license tag! I gotta admit - though - the voice activated dial up on the integrated cell phone isn't exactly WATSON smart, if you know what I mean.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

you know how Microsoft needs one more partner in their win7phone battle? They're going to buy Ford, then have Elop and Nokia take care of the IT and linkups. Then they'll launch new MS stores to battle the Apple Stores - combined MS, Nokia and Ford dealerships, with all support capacities in one place. Your car will be an extension of your phone, which will be an extension of your PC - linking in from your home. :p ;)

JCitizen
JCitizen

While I like what Ford is doing, their hybrids are smaller than a 1992 Ford Taurus. They are just too cramped. A Honda Fit would be a smarter buy, in my opinion. However, I REALLY like my GM Tahoe Hybrid. If you only putt around town, at 30 mph, it takes forever to burn a tank of gas! The thing mostly runs on electricity in those instances. Just keep your foot out of the firewall, and let'er go! The 2mode hybrid drive in that thing is phenomenal, and proof that you don't need a little Japanese rice rocket to enjoy the technology. I'm just waiting for the plug-in hybrid kit to come out. May have to uninstall the 6L V8, but that electric drive has plenty of power. I'm bullish on the idea, and may convert it to methanol fuel cell power pack instead. They are putting those in RVs already.

TommyManse
TommyManse

Give me a job, and I'll buy a hybrid, unless a more practical all electric car comes out before I get to the dealership. Americans are unfortunately limited by the amount of money they make versus the amount of money they have to spend to live and get to work. If you make at or below minimum wage you'll never afford to buy anything especially new and good for the economy. I am an American and I want more miles per gallon and eventually free energy. GOOD JOB FORD, take it to production.

JCitizen
JCitizen

but if you put a pencil to it, the extra cost of the hybrid drive system can pay for itself in 3 years or sooner if the price of gas goes up. It will ALWAYS go up, as we are running out of that energy source. I did a similar calculation on my hybrid, and if I was only putting 10,000 miles a year on it, it would pay off in five years. But now the price of gas has nearly doubled since then, so it will be more like three. Of course I realize if you can't afford the price it makes little difference that this may be a fact. The oil corporations have made sure that the price of a all electric metro car, which can only go 30 mph, cost over 20,000 - When you could buy one for around 6000 before the economic downturn. A lot of the cost is put into the price by them - they are on almost all motor transport manufacturing boards of directors. No wonder they are so high.

JCitizen
JCitizen

an all electric battery car now that fits your description; but because of regulations it costs 12780 dollars more. I believe if the Nissan Leaf were made in the US it would be cheaper. It has a 100 mile range, but with solar panel parking lot charging, while at work, could extend this.

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

You almost have the right idea, but to date all the black boxes in a car are proprietary devices, running custom code that is incompatible with any other manufacturer. To implement this cloud system, will likely be a very profound shift in the design of the black boxes. So far, the only thing that even comes close to a centralized networking topology is the onboard diagnostics required by federal law. And even that requires specialized procedures depending on make. The cloud idea as presented by this prototype is a much bigger shift in car design than the article makes clear. Another point to keep in mind is that this society is becoming used to defective devices being sold new. Just look at the cell phone market. First few months, some features are disabled, or bugs are discovered after release. But we keep buying this stuff.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Look how reliable the internal combustion motor and its attending ignition system have become over the last 20 years. Now cars can have motors and drive trains that last 250,000 miles; and have for those folks I know. I wouldn't know personally, because I have only just now bought my first new vehicle since 1983.

JCitizen
JCitizen

for fighter pilots is good enough for me. You don't see planes falling out of the sky very often, and they use the same technology. This kind of tech has become FAA certified over the last 30 years. No wonder this former VIP from Boeing sees the writing on the wall. I just hope he brings that reliability to the equation. He should be able to bring materials science on board as well - high strength with light weight.

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

but you might make more progress pitching that idea to the military, maybe law enforcement. The civilian public will not want to put on their seatbelt before getting into the car.

TommyManse
TommyManse

they could just build the override to be the physical pedals. If you push the brake pedal, even just a little it disables cruise control and applies brakes accordingly. Why would anyone think that this wouldn't be the case anyway. Ford unlike Toyota (who tried to kill countless Americans) with their "malfunctioning" gas and break systems, wants you be safe, and live to buy another car, then another, then another. Get the drift?

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

But really, do you need a processor-controlled car to operate when the electrical system is run down so low that the car becomes unsafe to be on the road? - 'not even the hazard lights worked' Last I seen, the hazard lights still use a simple flasher circuit based on a heating element for the control method. So you take one bad day, and enshrine it in your mind as the epitome of all things wrong? Then you stop thinking and project this analysis onto all other cars. I've seen other people do this. It's called 'making mountains out of molehills'.

TommyManse
TommyManse

You don't know that any car, even that old carburated one will quit when the juice runs out? Maybe you should have changed the diode that lights up yer idiot light.

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

Is addressed by an internally re-inforced structure, like any current car door. The JaTech company claims that the undercarriage structure this requires will increase the body stiffness and make the car safer. I've noticed that the bottom panel will result in an aerodynamic underside, which is a necessary feature for a future car. These doors will cost the same as a powered sliding van door. And those doors have the same 'massive hole' issue well under control.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

...you'd need to add some impressive sliding bars both door-side (sliding into the chassis after door close) and chassis-side (sliding into the door after door close). I think it could be made to work, but it will add weight. The bars (thick structured steel plates) would have to be engineered to deform in energy-consuming ways.

SpiritualMadMan
SpiritualMadMan

What you said is true, as far as it goes. Most fighter systems are triple redundant... How many auto makers are going to go to the cost of putting a triple redundant system on their cars? And, there *HAVE* been control failure systems in fighter aircraft on active duty most of the time a pilot can eject. But, there have been deaths as pilots have fought to keep their craft clear of residential areas. "Pilot Error" is an easy aftermath for when the control system fails at a critical time leaving no proof of its failure. That is even with a triple redundant system that continuously cross-checks itself...

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Have to meet the same design criteria as Passenger Cars? If they do that is something new. ;) Col

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

They would have to be a I Beam type Bar or better which is doable but they would also prevent the door disappearing completely under the car. If you look at the door the Inner Skin sort of folds up at the bottom and doesn't actually go under the car to the Dirty Area, only the inside of the outer skin. No matter what I still Like the Scissor Doors that are used they only require a few inches of side opening and then swing up. When fully open they don't require much more than 6 feet height which would allow most normal people to stand up so they are not overly high on required height. No matter I still Like the Gull Wing Doors but they are not very piratical in confined spaces. Though perhaps the entire roof lifting up to allow entry and egress is another useful idea. http://www.eurekacarclub.com.au/pics/04meet2.jpg Col