#1 DETROIT, FORD & THE MOTOR CITY, A HISTORY OF DESTINIES

responsible brand, sustainable, branding, detroit, sustainable brands, communication, ford,

SUSTAINABLE BRANDS IN DETROIT: OUR FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE, OR WHAT WE CAN ALL LEARN FROM THE REINVENTION OF A CITY !
Claire and Guillaume from strategic planning were in Detroit from 22 to 25 May for Sustainable Brands, the global event for responsible and innovative brands. Workshops, testimonies, city tours ... Making the most of the opportunity of being there, they were able to discuss topics ranging from food in cities to the workings of urban farms, a widespread phenomenon in Detroit.
For, contrary to popular belief, far from being a ghost town, Detroit is a city of the future - especially in terms of social innovation and sustainability.
But how has vital necessity, which the American city has been feeling the effects of since the 1950s, created the conditions for the emergence of tomorrow’s solutions ?
 
Claire explains the important lessons that the reinvention of Detroit can teach us in a series of 5 articles! She gives us an insider’s view of three days filled with discoveries, sharing and emotions.
Discover here the very first episode, "Ford & Detroit: a History of Interwoven Destinies"
 
FORD & DETROIT: A HISTORY OF INTERWOVEN DESTINIES
 
 
Nope, Ford isn’t a great champion of reinvention and it might seem like stretching it a bit to begin my feedback from Detroit by talking about this brand.
 
But anyway, as Ford is the main sponsor of the Sustainable Brands event which hosts us and is also an iconic brand of the city of Detroit, I thought that starting my investigation here was still the best way for me (and you) to delve quickly into the heart of the matter.
And on closer inspection I discovered a brand whose destiny is strangely linked to Detroit’s, and whose turbulent history now reveals a glimmer of hope for reinvention.

FORD AND DETROIT: FROM BOOM TO CRASH

If a list of brands that have changed the world in the past were to be drawn up, Ford would definitely be on it. Accessible automobiles, mechanization, job splitting, development of productivity-related wages - industrial development owes much to its founder, Henry Ford.
Just to put it in context: at the height of its activity, Ford employed more than 100,000 people in its plant in Detroit. Imagine it’s the interwar period, and one out of two American homes owns the famous Ford Model T. Detroit is at its zenith and the whole world wants to be part of the Ford factories.
 
 

 
Well, of course this all soon falls apart. Everything from the Great Depression of the 1930s, wage competition and post-war mechanization, race riots in the 1960s, oil crises, Japanese cars, right through to rising oil prices and subprimes, all contributes to the collapse of Ford, and in its wake Detroit - emptied, riddled with debt, and exhausted by the early 2000s.
 
 



FORD: A TIME FOR SOUL-SEARCHING
And that's where it gets interesting. Because although Ford has held up better than Detroit, no one can say that the traditional automobile industry is a sector of the future – and that’s something the brand has taken on board.
How to find a purpose in a world in the midst of climate change and undergoing a technological revolution?
A world where possessing a car no longer defines social status and where the Google Car and Uber are set to revolutionize the entire sector.
 

HOPE FOR CHANGE - WHAT IF DETROIT WERE TO INSPIRE FORD?
What if Ford could take inspiration from Detroit and find a way to reinvent itself ?
 
For in the meantime, Detroit dropped off the radar and underwent a silent revolution. Left to fend for themselves in a city stripped of everything, the citizens of Detroit kindled a new entrepreneurial spirit and sense of solidarity. Every day sees new initiatives to reinvent ways of eating, working and functioning as a community. A life force that Ford has every interest in capitalizing on to reinvent itself.
 
Here are two (faint) signs of hope that Ford may have realized that this situation is a real opportunity...
 

THE SPIRIT OF DETROIT AT THE HEART OF FORD
In 2014, Cadillac broadcast the following advertisement : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WKgSCPqY4M
A wealthy white man explains how the American work ethic makes the country successful and highlights Cadillac's audacity in launching a brand new electric model.
An advertisement that in the world of Detroit - a black world, plagued by unemployment and social difficulties - is deeply controversial.
 
Ford then seizes the opportunity to give a new twist to the advert and highlight its own vision of success. A black woman from Detroit explains how she is changing the world by turning food waste into potting soil. At the same time Ford can promote its own electric model and reaffirm its brand values: boldness, entrepreneurial spirit and proximity to a more working-class America that aspires to the American dream.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAN61QK0aUI




What appeals to me in this story ?
The courage of a brand that goes back to its original values! Ford ripostes with a vision that goes beyond merely promoting a product and shows it has understood the value of associating its image with that of young Detroit entrepreneurs. Of course we hope they will go further than just promoting their next electric model, and the following initiative gives us cause for a certain optimism.
 

LOCAL RE-INVOLVEMENT
Ford clearly states, like many other companies in the automotive field, that their challenge today is no longer to sell cars, but mobility.
And what better place to test this new model than a sprawling city, with an acute shortage of public transport and where a large part of the population simply cannot afford to buy a car?
 
This year Ford launched the Go Detroit Challenge: a competition for innovators from all backgrounds to reinvent mobility in Detroit. A life-size test to be globally deployed later on?
 
 
 

 
That’s the million-dollar question. Because to be honest, when we visited the factory, we ended up with a typically American display of the latest pickup, on the lines of, "Look how beautiful it is! Look how fast it goes! Look how much noise it makes! "And that left us somewhat puzzled. Even if the brand seems to have grasped the need for change, it’s not a foregone conclusion that it will be able to achieve it.
 
 

 The Ford plant today and its plant roof
 


FOOD FOR DREAMS ...
At Pixelis our dream is that Ford reinvents mobility just as it did 100 years ago.
Imagine if it became the first car brand working in open source to design a clean car that everyone could afford. When you see Tesla prices, you can only dream.
 
Imagine if the brand were to open up to local citizens and entrepreneurs, as it is beginning to do in Detroit, and create alternative, more environmentally- and people-friendly models of mobility, designed to match the specificities of each city and culture. In France, imagine a partnership with Navya, the "autonomous, intelligent electric shuttle that improves mobility" to help hasten its development.
 
The automobile sector is in the throes of a revolution and one thing is certain: if the big car firms do not venture into terra incognita, an armada of startups will be there ready to grab their share of the loot …



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