Closing the Tech Gap at Ford

Paul Eisenstein, publisher of the Internet magazine TheCarConnection.com, tells Renee Montagne that Ford has trailed competitors in design and engineering technology of late. They discuss what steps Ford is taking to appeal to tech-savvy customers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Mondays, we focus on technology, and it's one key area where Ford Motors has been trying to play catch-up. Paul Eisenstein is publisher of the Internet magazine, TheCarConnection.com. Good morning.

Mr. PAUL EISENSTEIN (Publisher, TheCarConnection.com): Good morning. Good to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Why is Ford lagging when it comes to technology, and how does it compare to some of the competitors? General Motors, Toyota…

Mr. EISENSTEIN: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with a lot of the other problems that Ford has, being a very political organization where they haven't really been able to use the technology to the maximum, even the stuff that they have. They need to be catching up even more now, because they're going to be an extremely lean organization. You're going to be losing a large portion of your white collar workforce, your engineering and design talent. The only way to make it up is by letting technology improve the speed with which they design their cars, with which they deal with technical issues that otherwise might leave them lagging behind their competitors, like GM, or worse, facing a lot of recalls.

MONTAGE: And what steps are they taking?

Mr. EISENSTEIN: One of the more interesting experiments they did recently involved the Fusion, one of their recent and rare hits. They actually let potential buyers tell them what to do. They had a special Internet site to give potential buyers a sense of some of the options and possible prices that they could offer those features for. And they figured out what the right price to charge was, and what options to make standard.

You'll see that they will use technology to speed up design. For example, in the old days they might have spent three months coming up with a clay model. Now, they can come up with all of this digitally. Even if they make a clay model, as opposed to doing it, say, in virtual reality, they do it with electronics that can cut the clay in a matter of hours, and if they have a change, they can blend, electronically, the two designs and come up with an all-new one and have another clay model ready overnight.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about cars equipped with sophisticated electronic systems. There's GPS technology in cars now. What is Ford doing about technology for the driver?

Mr. EISENSTEIN: The average medium- to high-priced automobile is likely to have more electronics in it than you would have in your home; everything from radar-guided cruise control to 500-watt, high-end, 5.1 stereo systems. And Ford has in many areas lagged behind. All too many of their products don't have navigation systems or don't have power up, power down windows. It may not sound like much, but more and more consumers are buying cars based on the electronics as much as they are on the styling and the performance. So, Ford is going to have to put a real emphasis on trying to keep up with the Mercedes-Joneses, if you will, because if it doesn't, it's losing customers who are as geeked on technology as they are on traditional automotive values.

MONTAGNE: Paul, thanks very much.

Mr. EISENSTEIN: Great to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Paul Eisenstein is publishing of TheCarConnection.com. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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