A few years ago, Ford tabbed Sheryl Connelly as its new “Chief Futurist,” a job that entails looking at social, technological, economic, environmental, and political trends – or things that can’t be controlled by the automaker – essentially identifying what might happen in the future so that The Blue Oval can plan accordingly. Over the same time frame, Ford has filed a bevy of patents outlining a future in which it believes that we’ll be cruising around in what are essentially living rooms on wheels, though as the now-retired Connelly’s successor – Chief Ford Futurist Jennifer Brace – recently told Chief Executive, she also imagines vehicles becoming the “new dinner table” at some point in the future, too.
“People want to connect,” Brace said. “They are prioritizing their connections with nature and with other people. And vehicles can serve an important role there. Vehicles can become this peaceful place to escape chaos for the weekend or to spend time with your family and connect with them, or to help get yourself reconnected with nature. The vehicle is the new dinner table, a space where you can connect. Many parents told us being in the car with them is the only time they can talk with their kids.”
Brace believes that with the rise of autonomous driving aids and one day, the arrival of full self-driving, there’s a big opportunity for automakers looking to transform vehicles into more “sanctuary-type spaces,” a place where occupants can relax rather than be tasked with driving themselves. This, coupled with Ford’s recent “Trends” report showing most people now prioritize quality of life over pay, there is certainly some room for change in regards to the ages-old way we use vehicles.
Companies should “recognize where people are at, and understand they want the ability to prioritize themselves and their family,” Brace said. “The more you can enable that time for them, there’s a lot of opportunity there.”