In 2015, Cadillac chief Johann de Nysschen announced plans to create high-tech boutiques for his brand. The idea didn't come out of thin air: the boutiques were similar to the ones he'd planned for Audi and the ones that Tesla has operated in shopping malls and department stores.
Ford is doing something similar, but different. Its first "interactive brand experience studio" might look like one of Cadillac or Tesla's galleries, but it's not a place for the company to show off cars. Instead, it's a place for Ford to talk about the whole range of transportation options it offers--offers that now fall generally under the category of "mobility".
The FordHub, as it's called, opened yesterday in New York's Westfield World Trade Center, home of the stunning "Oculus" designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. It's flanked by a range of stores, many of which offer fairly high-end goods.
In other words, Ford has picked a prime, chic location in lower Manhattan--one that's a good match for the young, urban, moderately well-moneyed audience it hopes to attract.
But what is it trying to sell?
Ford's vice president for Global Dealer and Consumer Experience, Elena Ford, says that "Our first FordHub is a place designed to spark questions and curiosity. This isn’t a store or a dealer – it’s a place for participation and creativity. We want people to have fun while engaging in conversation about the future of transportation."
Those conversations will center on Ford's vision for the future of transportation, including self-driving cars, electric vehicles, ride-sharing services, and connected automobiles. To drive home its point of how important these developments are, particularly for city-dwellers, the FordHub will also feature a map of New York's transportation activity, with up-to-the-minute details about trains, ferries, and, of course, traffic jams.
As with anything pitched at younger consumers, there are games, too. Guests can don virtual reality headsets and build a Ford Mustang (atop the Empire State Building, for some reason), while friends watch the action on a nearby screen. "Last Mile Challenge" is a racing game in which players use wobbleboards to zip through the city, using a wide range of mobility solutions, including e-bikes.
Even though the FordHub won't be a retail store in the traditional sense, it will still have staff (dubbed FordGuides, in today's space-free world) who can answer any questions that guests might have.
Some of those questions might involve Ford's new Mobilize New York Challenge, a series of transportation challenges that come with cash prizes totaling more than $30,000. Ford hopes to receive proposals from scientists, urban planners, and everyday people, detailing ways to get New Yorkers from the Bronx to the Battery quicker and easier. If you're interested in submitting your own ideas, click here to see a list of current challenges.
If, on the other hand, you'd just like a clearer idea about what Ford means when it says "mobility", we recommend having a look at the company's new, 90-second commercial, embedded above. Slated to debut on TV just before Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast, it offers a fairly effective summary of Ford's vision for solving today's problems--and tomorrow's.