Tuesday morning didn’t come quite as early as the day before. A six-thirty breakfast offers an extra hour of sleep, very much needed after the excitement of the auto show. We hop onto a bus destined for Dearborn, Michigan, world headquarters of the Ford Motor Company. Our activities for the day include a test drive in one of Ford’s many versions of the F-150 trucks, a visit to the Dearborn Truck Plant at the Ford Rouge Factory, a seminar on the future of energy and plug-in vehicles, and a peek inside the Beech Daly Technical Center where Ford’s several 3D printers were hard at work producing test parts for their vehicles.
Before heading out for the morning, I tweet out a quick message: “Looks like great weather for a test drive!!” Funny how some things come back to bite you.
Once in Dearborn, we are directed to the back of the Dearborn Inn where an array of F-150s awaits us. Each is running with the heat on, a nice touch on a cold but beautiful morning. The idea is that two or three of us would hop in a truck. One would drive to the Dearborn Truck Plant and another would drive back to the Inn after our visit, thereby giving everyone an opportunity to drive these beauties. My fellow driver takes the wheel, pulls out of the parking lot, and heads onto the streets. Our truck has no navigation system (I was surprised that was even a non-option, but it makes sense: not everyone needs to pay for a nav system. Odds are most of us own a Garmin.) I call out the directions from a conveniently printed sheet some forward-thinking individual from Ford placed on the console.
The route is only about five miles. A routine, even boring, trip if there ever was one. Except for the black ice. We hadn’t really factored that into the equation.
There really is nothing you can do to help your situation on black ice once you’re there. You can make matters worse, of course, but once you are sliding, you just do the best you can. Thankfully, the driver keeps a cool head and rides it out. Yes, we slide sideways for a bit. Yes, we end up facing the wrong way. Yes, we sort of merge into the ice bank/curb. But we kick it into four-wheel drive, hop the curb, and drive a safe distance away from the ice before getting out to make sure everything was all right.
Turns out we weren’t the only test drivers to hit that patch of ice. Others in our group found the same bit of ice, and they weren’t quite as lucky as us. They kind of tapped another car. No one was hurt and after a short delay, we are all on our way again to the truck assembly plant. One thing I have to say about the F-150, though: it handled as well as – even better than – I would have expected on ice. There was no lean, no sense of tipping, nothing like that. Just a smooth drift until the wheels touched pavement again.
Once at the Ford Rouge Factory, we are ushered into a large lobby/small museum which houses such Ford legends as a 1931 Model A town sedan, a 1956 Thunderbird, a 1965 Mustang (MSRP $2,614.00!!!), and a 2015 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. A short elevator ride up to the next level affords a view of the entire complex. At one time the world’s largest green roof, a 10-acre roof of sedum tops the assembly plant. This green roof does quite a lot besides providing Ford a boon in environmental PR. The roof attracts killdeer, Canada geese, Virginia rail, American bittern, and a variety of ducks. It slows down rainwater and snowmelt and provides natural water treatment, which ends up saving Ford money. In addition, the green roof lowers heating and air-conditioning costs. On the property, as well, Ford keeps bee boxes and even teaches beekeeping to local school children.
Back inside, the real work is taking place. The Rouge Complex houses the Dearborn Truck Plant. This is where 2014 F-150s are currently being produced; around 1,200 trucks roll off the assembly line in one 10-hour shift. This is where the body and the chassis are assembled and where the two are joined for the first time.
You can imagine that quality control is important to a successful company such as the Ford Motor Company. Each part, from a door panel to a stereo speaker to the tailgate latch, is coded and scanned before it is assembled. If, later down the road, a customer has an issue with a part – maybe a stereo speaker malfunctions – the customer’s dealer scans the affected piece and sends the information to the plant. Within 3-5 days, the plant and the employee responsible for installing the part, are notified. Plant managers can easily pinpoint problems and track issues.
After our visit to the truck plant, we head back to the Dearborn Inn for our breakout sessions. Our F-150 isn’t parked outside waiting for us and we learn that it needed to be checked out after hitting the curb. Our substitute is a Ford Escape. Somewhat disappointed I am not going to have the opportunity to drive a truck, I am offered a ride in the F-150 FX4 with the Raptor package. Comfortable and decked out, it eases my disappointment a bit.
The remainder of the day involves attending breakout sessions: one on the future of energy and plug-in vehicles and another on 3D printing, a process Ford uses to create life-sized model parts. Regarding the energy session, I find it funny that, as a representative of HuntingLife and a resident of Nebraska, I am listening to experts in alternative fuel vehicles from Ford and the State of Oregon discuss the current state of plug-in vehicles, their ranges, and the availability and location of plug-in stations. There is not a huge market for this in the hunting industry or in the Midwest. Or maybe there is…keep the Via Motors in the back of your mind. I might come back to that down the road.
A quick trip to the Beech Daly Technical Center interests me more than I would have imagined. Exactly what is 3D printing, I am thinking to myself as I walk into the facility. What does it do for the automotive industry? Well, I got to see this technology in action and it has me thinking about the possible ways 3D printing might be used in other fields. Is it used in gun manufacturing? I have no idea. But 3D printing can produce a nifty little stand for my iPad (a present from the kind folks at the Beech Daly Center – thanks!). And, as I learned just today at my son’s Cub Scout Pinewood Derby Race, 3D printing can produce a shell for the Cubmaster’s Den car. Seriously. (Okay, so I am veering off into geekdom, but it is pretty cool!)
I fly back to Lincoln at the end of the day. Though I am happy to be home, I leave Detroit wishing I could stay just one more day. I have more questions and want to check out the cars and trucks at the auto show one more time. Perhaps that is the perfect time to leave after all: still wanting more but not overstaying my welcome. And with that, I want to say a big THANK YOU to the Ford Motor Company for inviting HuntingLife.com to the 2014 NAIAS!
Well, in my opinion the 2015 F-150 was the star of the show, hands down. I’ll be writing about the F-150, the radical changes Ford is making in this latest rendition, the features and options, and the all around look and feel of this truck in the days to come. I am also eager to share more about 3D printing, how Ford uses this technology in its design process, and how 3D printing is being used outside of the automotive industry in ways you might never have imagined.
Until then, enjoy your own ride and keep your eyes open to some of the new cars and trucks out on the road.
We encourage you to check out FORD and go on a few test drives of your own!!