Ford's Turn to Blow Into Town on a Mission of Daze-and-Amaze by Showing off its High-Tech Gadgetry

Ford's Turn to Blow Into Town on a Mission of Daze-and-Amaze by Showing off its High-Tech Gadgetry

Ron Reaume stops the brand new Lincoln on a San Francisco street. He pushes a button. He puts it in reverse. Then he gooses the gas to parallel park the hulking sedan into its smaller-than-a-breadbox spot.

While raising his arms up through the sunroof.

"Look, Ma!" he seems to be saying, as the Lincoln eases perfectly into the slot. "No hands!"

Cars that parks themselves. Cars that warn you when you're about to rear-end someone. Even cars so smart that they know if there's an idiot behind the wheel.

In the past few years, automakers have taken to high-tech gadgetry like kids on a sugar-high. This week, it was Ford's turn to blow into town on a mission of daze-and-amaze.

Genuflecting at the altar of Silicon Valley, the fount of so many things digital, they unveiled their bag of technologies for their 2010 fleet. Some were variations on other automakers' themes. Some were deliciously cutting-edge, born of partnerships with innovators like Sony and Microsoft's Tellme Networks. And each touched that holy grail of safety, design and pure seduction.

"I've done this blindfolded," said Reaume, a Ford Motor product specialist showing off the self-parking car to reporters. "I've done it 2,000 times, and it never ceases to amaze me."

While not the first of its kind, the self-park technology is perhaps the most jaw-dropping trick of Ford Motor, which enjoyed a sales surge in August thanks in part to the Cash for Clunkers program. But it's just a piece of what Ford's electrical engineering director, Jim Buczkowski, called its "innovation strategy and democratization of technology. We want to make the technologies available to all drivers, not just those in luxury vehicles."

He proceeded to break down the features of the 2010 Taurus, which at about $25,000 is being billed as an "unsurpassed value" for "America's smartest full-size sedan," even though it's not yet one of the models featuring the self-park technology. Pointing out the rearview cameras and the car's ability to sense the key in your pocket and open its doors automatically, Buczkowski acknowledged that tech-laden vehicles could be a double-edge sword.

Long way, short time

"To be successful," he said, "we have to introduce these technologies in an intuitive way. If we confuse people, they won't use them."

So there sat the humble candy-apple red Taurus, practically purring with goodies like the radar-based "adaptive cruise control" that "reads" the cars in front of it and adjusts its speed accordingly. And the radar modules that notify the driver when another vehicle has entered one of the car's blind spots. And the "continuous massage" seats that sound naughty enough to merit a visit from the vice squad.

"What's really remarkable," said Bay Area-based automotive writer Jon Rosner, "is how far Ford has come in the past few years. You see the German automakers adding tech for the sake of tech, but Ford is making it useful for the average consumer, and then spreading it across their product line. That's unusual in the industry."

Rosner, who writes for a number of North American automotive publications, said Ford is using "the latest generation of radar, and I think it'll become the industry standard. For blind-spot technology, Volvo's is camera-based. But Ford's is radar-based, and it's better. It can recognize more things than a camera can, because a camera can't tell density. So it can't tell if that's a person in your blind spot or a paper bag floating by."

Standing nearby, Ford's chief safety engineer, Steve Kozak, was showing off the skeleton of the Taurus, it's side-curtain air bag deployed in an exuberant billow. Engineers, said Kozak, attacked the rollover problem with Holmesian detective work.

Rollover safety

"Working with law enforcement, we learned that 3½ rolls is common in a severe roll event," he said, drifting into engineer-speak. "So we tried it and timed how long those rolls would take, and then we designed it so that the air bag stays inflated for six seconds to handle multiple rollovers."

On the other side of the showroom, Doug VanDagens, Ford's director of connected services, was putting the company's new SYNC technology through its paces. The Microsoft-powered SYNC system, he said, can basically make your car an extension of your cell phone, offering voice-controlled news on demand, traffic reports, directions and the closest place to get your toenails trimmed. Literally.

And best of all, he said, SYNC "can immediately learn your voice the first time it hears it."

VanDagens paused, searching for a word more diplomatic than, say, buffoon.

"And if you're a novice, it can tell," he said. "And it'll take more time with you and give you more help."

News Source: Internet



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