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Automotive Traveler Magazine: Vol 3 Iss 3 Page 6

Rear View Mirror: Paradigm Shifts, Past and Present

On Malcolm Gladwell, Ford, and the repercussions of change.

By Richard Truesdell

I received an invitation earlier this summer to attend a conference in Dearborn, Michigan entitled "Forward with Ford." I rarely pass up opportunities that afford a sneak peak of future product plans--especially at Ford, the one company that took no federal assistance. Remember Congress chastising the Big Three auto company executives for flying down to the nation's capital in the fall of 2008 in their private jets?

A great deal has changed since 2008. GM and Chrysler went into and quickly exited what were essentially prepackaged bankruptcies. Having shed some onerous fixed costs and negotiated concessions from their unions, each is poised to take advantage of increased sales once we finally exit this recession.

Ford's visionary CEO Alan Mulally had mortgaged everything but the Blue Oval back in 2007, leaving the company with the funds in the bank to weather the storm on its own. Since then, Ford literally put the pedal to the metal, racing ahead of its competitors and establishing itself as America's favorite car company.

The journey forward has not been without a few speed bumps. J.D. Powers recently cited Ford for declining quality. The move came in the after-math of pointed criticism from influential Consumer Reports about the complexity of Ford's cutting-edge MyFordTouch and MyLincolnTouch telematics systems. With Ford's relentless focus forward, though, I think the issue will be addressed quickly, probably faster than Ford's competitors would like.

As for the "Forward with Ford" conference, I was struck by the fact that I hardly knew anyone at dinner the first night, many of whom were younger than 30. Seems it was a convention of automotive and lifestyle bloggers, while many of my auto journalist colleagues had attended a similar event earlier in the week.

It was a good opportunity to see how members of the up-and-coming generation go about their work of gathering and reporting information, especially as it tends to push us old guys forward.

My main observation was that they use their smartphones almost constantly, heads down, not watching where they are going. (iPhones are the preferred choice, but I saw many Blackberries and some Android devices as well.) We talk about distracted driving--one of the topics