10 Auto Trends from Ford’s Futurist Sheryl Connelly

Fast Company magazine recently named Sheryl Connelly number 24 on its list of 100 most creative business people. Connelly, who’s worked for Ford Motor Company for 17 years, is the auto company’s in-house futurist, studying how social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends impact how we’ll be living as far out as 2050.

Connelly’s one of the few people at Ford not intensely focused on the auto industry. Instead she looks outside the world of cars to identify broad factors that will influence car trends in the coming decades.

Earlier this summer Connelly traveled to the Pacific Northwest where she elaborated on Ford’s 2013 trend report, Looking Further with Ford. Here are some of Connelly’s insights:

  1. Huge population growth strains economies and buying-power. Population growth in China, India and Africa will put an intolerable burden on those economies, leading to a failing infrastructure, inconsistent governance, and widening gaps between the haves and have-nots. These regions will likely not be the bread-and-butter markets of the future.
  2. Lopsided population in Japan leads to less manufacturing output. By 2030, Japan will have more retirees than workers. Economic output will slow down and GDP will drop. There will be less money for investment and innovation, and the technological prowess of that country will decline, probably moving to India where the population is young.
  3. Aging population impacts car design. Baby boomers want to be active and independent into old age, and they need cars that will help them achieve this. Car gadgetry will compensate for reduced response time, impaired vision and limited range of motion.
  4. Too many cars on the road prompts manufactures to think outside the box. Rapid urbanization and overcrowded roads will lead car makers to invest in other mobility solutions (think Zipcar).
  5. Vehicle ownership not a rite of passage. Traditional paths to success are changing. Finding a steady job and buying a house and a car are not necessarily what Millennials aspire too.
  6. Cars no longer a status symbol. Cars will be less about status and showmanship and more about accessibility and convenience. Buying “stuff” will become passé, while renting, sharing and swapping will be the norm.
  7. More than transportation. Vehicles will offer a hyper-connected home from home where we can accomplish a plethora of tasks.
  8. Consumerism shifts from product to experience. Drivers are less concerned with the nuts and bolts of the physical product and more interested in the experiences their vehicles provide.
  9. Ethical consumption. Consumers are driven by environmental and social concerns, they want to buy local and green and feel like they are part of a “greater good”.
  10. Thriftiness is king. The recession has fundamentally changed our attitudes towards spending, both practically and philosophically. Consumers continue to hold onto their vehicles longer. Cars must be utilitarian, flexible and adaptable.

What automotive trends do you predict in the coming decades?

Photo: 032213_TEDxRVA_232 by TEDxRVA2013 on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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2 thoughts on “10 Auto Trends from Ford’s Futurist Sheryl Connelly”

  1. Gladis says:

    Hello Nancy, just to let you know that we at PTC in Brazil have translated your post. Pls check on https://www.facebook.com/ptcbr. Actually, we find them very interesting. Tks! Gladis

  2. Kaylee Fox says:

    Hello, brilliant advice and an fascinating article, it is going to be interesting if this is still the case in a few years time

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