The car business used to be simple. You built cars and trucks, introducing new models each year in August to a public that couldn’t wait to see what was coming next; the new designs, more powerful engines, the latest features. Back in the day, you could communicate everything most people needed to know in a 30- or 60-second national TV spot.
As the Rolling Stones sang, “Things are different today.” Now manufacturers talk about connectivity, electrification, and automation as much or more than cubic inches, horsepower, and torque. No longer mere car companies, they’re fast becoming providers of “mobility solutions” which is a complex concept that requires more than a list of features, an MSRP, and rebate to sell.
The future is coming up fast and it’s hard to package in a television second commercial (although Ford is trying to do so on this Sunday’s Super Bowl) That’s why more and more brands are opening experience centers to showcase their latest concepts and technologies. Two recent examples are Cadillac and Ford, who have both opened spaces in New York. They’re hoping to educate us about where both they, and the future of automobiles, are going.
These are places designed sell ideas, not cars.
Cadillac House is located 330 Hudson Street in lower Manhattan and its purpose according to Cadillac “is an opportunity to share the brand’s singular perspective on subjects beyond automotive design.” They describe it as a gallery, retail space, and exhibition area for their vehicles. But it is not a showroom. It’s a place that’s supposed to bring the brand to life beyond the cars. Its partners include the Council of Fashion Designers of America who maintain the retail space, and a cafe from trendy New York coffee purveyors, Joe Coffee. Cadillac, hoping to be known by the company it keeps, is using these brands to demonstrate its commitment to innovative design and craftsmanship.
Cadillac House also hosts exhibitions in its gallery and events in its space. Their current exhibit is titled A Portrait of America and is co-presented by the Warhol Museum. Other events have included a summer dinner series to benefit City Harvest, musical performances, and other art exhibitions. Overall, it’s an emotional appeal designed to connect with potential buyers on what Cadillac stands for from a cultural perspective.
Ford, on the other hand, has taken a very different approach. Their newly opened “FordHub Brand Experience Studio” is more interactive and focused on both automotive and transportation innovation than arts and culture. It’s very deliberately located in one of America’s busiest transportation centers in the Westfield World Trade Center in New York’s financial district. According to Ford, “FordHub is designed to inspire visitors – whether they own or intend to own a Ford vehicle or not – to think about the future of transportation in an entirely new way by encouraging imagination and dialogue.”
The exhibit is built around Ford’s City of Tomorrow concept they launched at the Detroit Auto Show. (We’ll have more on that in an upcoming post). As such it showcases coordinated mobility options that can be deployed to help improve our transportation infrastructure in the years to come. These include autonomous and electric vehicles, ride sharing, ride hailing, and even last mile solutions like e-bikes. The FordHub has a dynamic “Mobility Map” of New York City that presents a dashboard of real-time information on street and highway traffic, busses, trains, ferries and alerts about each.
At the FordHub grand opening yesterday, Ford also announced the Mobilize New York Challenge, a contest to help generate and produce ideas that make getting around the city easier. With a total prize of $30,000 Ford hopes to help individuals and businesses fund their concepts. Submissions are due by 13 March 2017 and winners will be announced on 12 May. For more information, visit the Mobilize New York website.
Ford plans on opening several more FordHubs around the country and we wouldn’t be surprised to see other manufacturers building signature spaces as well. Even though you can reach hundreds of millions of people with one Super Bowl commercial, it’s hard to communicate much when they’re headed to the refrigerator for another beer.