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Ford's Evos – four-gullwing-door fastback plug-in hybrid concept connects to 'the cloud'

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September 1, 2011

Ford's Evos Concept

Ford's Evos Concept

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Ford's Evos may only be a concept car but with its four scissor doors reaching skyward to the heavens, it is both the most distinctive and important concept from Ford in many a year. The Evos is the first manifestation of the Blue Oval's "first truly global design language," a visual signature that Ford hopes will make its next generation of vehicles more recognizable than the current fleet. The plug-in hybrid will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show two weeks from now and previews not just the new family resemblance, but the intuitive "cloud connected" functionality Ford will infuse into the next generation of vehicles.

When automotive designers discuss their company's "design language," they don't mean that all their products will look the same. A design language needs to be flexible enough for different sizes and types of vehicles, so that customers around the world will be able to immediately recognize the company's product.

Ford's Evos Concept

Whereas you can always instantly identify a BMW or Mercedes, regardless of the size or genre of the vehicle, Ford lost its recognition factor some time ago and a consistent design language has been on the agenda for some time. The front grill area is the focal point of any automotive design language and it's no coincidence that human family recognition also focuses on the visage or facial structure - you can be the judge of whether the new "face of Ford" trapezoidal grille is ugly or not, and most likely the new "design language" has already been tested before hundreds of focus groups across the world, as it's terribly important to have a handsome family in the automotive industry.

Ford's Evos – four-gullwing-door fastback plug-in hybrid concept connects to 'the cloud'

The Evos is the first vehicle we've seen to employ Ford's visual vocabulary and in my mind, it is a great looking car. The four gullwing doors will, or would undoubtedly draw a crowd if it were ever built - but Ford has already stated it will "never be built" so the gullwing doors might only ever be part of this concept, and not the future range. As far as aesthetics go, the team looks to have done a wonderful job.

Ford's Evos Concept

Buzzwords and "new technology"

We'd all like someone with an intimate understanding of our needs, and a constant desire to fulfill them, but when I see commercial companies promising anything from the upper layers of Mazlov's hierarchy, it's part of my job description to get cynical. Hence when I saw Ford's promise that it is intending to employ the "cloud" in its new vision for "customer-focused and intuitive technologies," I wanted to take a closer look. The "cloud" has risen fast as a marketing buzzword in recent times, threatening to displace "green", "intelligent", "market leading", "popular" (with no stats to back it up), "attractive", "innovative" and "revolutionary" from the top rungs of the PR copywriter lexicon.

My big fear, is that when computers attempt to do this, they usually get it wrong, and if predictive text can get my limited vocabulary so wrong, and language translation can take perfectly discernible meaning and turn it into jibberish, what hope does a car manufacturer have of gaining a detailed understanding of my preferences and habits, combining them with "additional data drawn from the cloud" (AKA look things up on the internet), and providing me with a better driving experience.

Ford's Evos Concept

John Cleese's cult classic Fawlty Towers is the perfect example of what happens when a well meaning but communication-challenged and persistent servant (Manuel, or in this case, the automotive personal assistant) continually gets it wrong - you spend more time correcting things than getting on with life.

There's also a vagueness about Ford's communications that is beginning to worry me. Ford claims its advanced PHEV technology gives the Evos a driving range of more than 500 miles (800 kilometres) which it rightfully points out, is more than any other plug-in or extended-range electric vehicle. Does it breach the rules of fair play to be making such claims when you haven't announced the size of the battery or the motor? I think it does!

Ford says the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrain in the Evos comes from the Ford C-MAX Energi scheduled for release next year, but details of that powertain are equally as scarce. We have been told the C-Max Energi can drive in all electric mode at 47 mph - everything else, such as the all-electric range, top speed, and battery size have yet to be announced. Ditto for any details on the internal combustion engine. I am prepared to suspend disbelief for films and storytellers, but not press releases.

We do know that Ford's "powersplit" hybrid architecture allows the electric motor and petrol engine to work together or separately, and that it typically runs in all-electric mode but there's a secrecy around the powertrain that tends to undermine the claims that it's the most advanced on the planet. Every other top 20 automotive manufacturer in the world is working on advanced hybrid technologies it has not yet disclosed. Ford is the fifth largest such manufacturer in the world, so the lack of detail is hardly confidence-inspiring regarding the veracity of the claims for a concept car's usable range, as it will never be tested.

Where the Evos raises most doubts though, is in the integration and usefulness of "cloud technology."

"We're researching how we can use patterns or preferences set by the driver to make life simpler," is how Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president of Ford Research and Innovation, explained the advanced "cloud" technologies. "The car gets to know you and can act as a personal assistant to handle some of the usual routines of a daily commute."

Ford's intention to bring "smart technologies" to the next generation of its cars may give the company a whole new range of headaches, as it clearly expects the car to play a kind of personal assistant role, and that role, in my mind, is already clearly going to be taken by the smartphone. More than a few people I know have already discarded new smartphones because they prefer the way the old smartphone integrated with their way of doing things. That's a bummer if you've paid US$500, but it'd be significantly more of an inconvenience if you'd just outlaid US$50,000 for a car which didn't integrate with your life the way you wanted it to, or perhaps made decisions you didn't want it to make.

Ford's Evos Concept

"We see technology as more than just an impressive list of microprocessors, sensors and software; it's about the application of that technology to create an experience that enhances the driver's time behind the wheel," was how the vision was described by Mascarenas.

The company claims four key focuses for the raft of new technologies - "personalisation, seamless enhancement of the driving experience, looking after the driver's well-being and delivering smart electrified powertrain optimization."

Combining a knowledge of the driver's preferences and driving habits, with additional data from the cloud, such as the driver's work schedule and local traffic or weather conditions is hardly likely to offer much of an advantage because most of those things need to be known before you get in the car, so you can dress appropriately and leave in enough time to get to where you need to be.

Going further on Ford's stated intentions, it offered examples of such usefulness as automatically playing "the same music or news program that was just streaming at home" - I, and probably every other car driver in the universe, use a screen (vision and sound) at home, and audio only in the car. It's a different environment to start with, and what I play resides on my smartphone when I leave the house. Research released last week suggests that most of the world's inhabitants will have smartphones by the end of the decade. It will undoubtedly be the device which rules our lives, not the car.

Ford's Evos Concept

Yet another example of the system's benefits proffered by Ford was the ability to "heat or cool the interior to an ideal temperature before the driver gets in without having to be requested by predicting departure time based on his calendar." If Ford is aiming its future offerings only at office-based people who spend their day in meetings, with very fixed routines, that might be good, but trends suggest there are a lot more people who now work far more flexibly, or from home, or wherever they might be. Modern cars don't take more than a minute to achieve the desired temperature anyway, and having a car sitting in the garage maintaining the desired temperature while you take an impromptu 15 minute phone call over a coffee at home seems like an easy way to waste energy to me. Having a dumb car make decisions for a smart me will not fly, particularly if I have to stop it from doing what it thinks I want so I can actually get what I do want.

Yet another example offered by Ford was that the car would wirelessly communicate "with devices in the home" and could perform tasks such as "close the garage door and switch off the lights automatically as it pulls away." Call me old fashioned, but I like to know that the door is locked and the lights are off before I head off into the sunset. Such remote functionality might be useful if you get halfway to work and remember you had left the iron on, but I'm expecting an app in my smartphone to handle such "senior citizen moments," not my car.

I'm also doubtful my insurance company would be understanding about the car getting it wrong, forgetting to reset the security system, or any one of many potential risks. It's not all that long ago that most of the world's computer users regularly saw Microsoft's blue screen of death and I am still a little gun-shy about entrusting a computer to lock up after me without direct supervision.

"This cloud-connected vision shows the enormous potential of tailoring the driving experience to suit the exact personal tastes and moods of the driver," said Mascarenas. "From recommending a great driving road from friends on your social networks or resetting your alarm clock to let you sleep in when a morning meeting gets cancelled!"

Ford's Evos Concept

My computer/smartphone already assists me with intelligent choices, and I already know where to ask without getting a chorus opinions I do not respect to discern my way through. It's looking to me like Ford is going to attempt to make itself more relevant by replicating a whole host of services I already have. As for letting a car switch off my alarm clock if my first meeting is cancelled while I'm asleep ... might I suggest Ford checks the water cooler for hallucinogenic substances!

"Our goal is to focus on enriching a customer's every experience with their vehicle - by personalizing it, adapting it, and creating unique, unexpected features that surprise and delight them," said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development. "In the Ford Evos Concept, this objective is explored and extended to the area of connectivity, where the intent is not to convert the vehicle into a smartphone, but rather to provide personalised and safe connection to the outside world in an enriching manner designed totally for the vehicle context."

More from the press kit: "The concept's technology experience embraces a new generation of driver interaction and awareness currently under development in the Ford Research and Innovation laboratories. Seamless connectivity between the vehicle and the driver's 'personal cloud' of information is at the heart of the vision for its capabilities."

"The possibilities are fascinating when we explore how to enable a seamless lifestyle between home, office and car linked by access to the driver's personal information," Mascarenas said.

I do get the idea, but I can't think of anything the computerized automobile will do for me that I don't want to do myself.

Am I missing something? Is that all they got? Sadly, it's not!

"With information from the cloud, the vehicle can provide the same connected lifestyle the driver experiences at home or office. The car knows the driver, and automatically adapts handling, steering and engine controls to deliver an exceptionally dynamic driving experience. Learning driver habits and capabilities, the technology can overlay map and weather data sourced from the cloud to adjust powertrain, steering, suspension and braking systems for optimum enjoyment, comfort and safety. Because the vehicle is adaptive and honed to maximum performance based on the situation, it takes driving engagement to a new level."

Right, so I am to understand that the car is going to make changes to the way it handles, brakes, steers and delivers its power, while I'm driving it. That does not sound helpful, or useful, or indeed, safe.

More from the press release: "Current technology requires vehicle chassis settings to be defined based upon the abilities and tastes of a cross-section of drivers and the topography of typical roads. The concept foresees tuning handling and performance to the road ahead and the specific individual behind the wheel."

I know someone who once witnessed a motorcycle test rider for a major manufacturer get the front damping changed by remote telemetry on a motorcycle he was riding in a closed testing session at the racetrack. The rider blamed the resultant 200 km/h tankslapper on the changes and upon returning to the pits he actually threw his helmet at the technician turning the dials.

If a highly experienced technician can get it wrong on a well known corner that they'd been over thousands of times before, what chance has a car got of making useful changes to how it behaves based on a report from the weather bureau and Google maps - this is sounding more astoundingly stupid with every paragraph.

Still more from the press statement: "Cloud connectivity would provide further opportunities to enhance performance and efficiency by selecting the optimum combination of powertrain modes for any given journey."

Ford's Evos Concept

"Access to historical driver behavior and travel patterns allows us to calculate the optimal fuel and energy efficiency by predicting the destination," said Mascarenas. "Our researchers are working to increase understanding of driver behaviour, develop accurate protocols to predict it and enhance the trip by providing the smartest use of fuel or battery for the situation."

"The cloud-optimized powertrain would automatically 'know' when to save energy and switch modes, using information about the vehicle's predicted travel route, any emission zone restrictions during the journey and current weather conditions."

Okay, so now they're claiming the car will predict your travel route - surely if you know the route, you'll know about emission zone restrictions, and if you don't, the GPS will tell you about them. I have a four year old GPS that travels with me to different countries, and it can already notify of such zones, and reroute me past traffic congestion. The whole set of Ford's cloud-enhanced driving claims are beginning to sound like a set of solutions looking for problems.

More from the release: "Ford researchers have already developed technologies focused on driver wellness, such as the heart-rate monitoring seat and certified allergy-free interiors. With a seamless connection to the cloud, the Ford Evos Concept monitors the physical state and workload of the driver and adjusts the driving experience accordingly."

If you're at a loss to understand the connection between the cloud and the promised functionality, such as the heart-monitoring and allergy-free interiors, that's because Ford intends to access air quality data from the cloud and proactively suggest a healthier route to the destination.

As far as the heart monitoring goes, Ford's release explains, "in dynamic driving situations, the vehicle may simplify the appearance of the instrument panel to display only necessary gauge information and switch the driver's connected smartphone to "Do Not Disturb" mode to help keep the focus of attention on the road."

"Our wellness research and technologies are focused on relieving driver stress and enhancing their situational awareness," said Mascarenas. "Drivers around the world are spending more time behind the wheel, and the car should not be another stress point in their lives."

Now I'm not sure about you, but being interrupted to tell me to calm down or to consider another route where the air is cleaner is more likely to contribute to my stress than alleviate it. Switching my phone off because I don't know what's good for me even moreso. Not one of the decisions the Evos and the next generation of Ford cars will be making for the driver are decisions I wish to have them make.

Indeed, just as I was finishing this article, I got a new selection of information sent through by Gizmag's team at the IFA consumer electronics expo in Germany, and by the time I'd finished reading about Ford's new MyKey system, I was wondering if Ford's view of the marketplace isn't so "old school" that it is fatally flawed.

The MyKey system is designed to configure their Ford to limit how loud the stereo can be used, how fast the car can go, and to sound an array of warnings at different speed levels, all of which it believes will give parents peace of mind when they hand the keys over to their kids.

Good parenting involves helping your children make good decisions, not making them for them. Trust is part of that process. Children are making up their own mind far earlier than we did, and with Ford focusing on the parents point of view, it's clear where the marketing push for customers is focused. If Ford thinks such functionality will endear its vehicles to the younger generation starting out on the roads, it is mistaken. Acting like a misguided PTA will not win Ford young (AKA potential long term customers) friends.

Ford's MyKey system

It looks a lot to me like Ford is looking for a way to make advanced technologies seem relevant to someone, and that anyone will do. There is undoubted promise in predictive technologies that make intelligent decisions when you're not capable of making better ones, but that time is not yet here.

Of course, you might like the idea of having Manuel from Fawlty Towers sitting in your back seat, turning off your mobile phone, and changing the configuration and feel of the powertrain, brakes, handling and suspension.

Like the geeky kid, Ford is acting smart in school, but dumb on the bus, and its popularity will suffer accordingly.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
17 Comments

wow

Libiez Thomas
1st September, 2011 @ 08:18 am PDT

Wow, exactly. But, like a lot of my Hotwheels cars as a kid, I'm still not seeing these come to fruition. What I want is Wow, followed by 'sign here'.

Build this beautiful concept out of carbon nanotube technology (frame, body and battery), give it a 200 mpg average (a la VW XL1) using a series diesel hybrid drivetrain, ability to haul 1,500 lbs, under $50K and I say 'show me where to sign'...

JD Howell
1st September, 2011 @ 10:11 am PDT

It looks like ford went for the gee-wiz without bouncing the ideas off reality.

Slowburn
1st September, 2011 @ 10:23 am PDT

First rule of Design KISS

Keep It Simple, Stupid...

The more complex a machine is, the more chances it has to fail.

It's a beautiful car but you could not pay me to own a vehicle like that. It will be in the shop more than it's on the street.

Artisteroi
1st September, 2011 @ 10:24 am PDT

Great, another concept car. It has always shown that the car maker who delivers on a popular concept car to the market the quickest makes the most bucks. The seats look hard as concrete. Sexy, but by the time Ford "get's it" I'll be dead..

Erwin Lapschies
1st September, 2011 @ 02:33 pm PDT

THis is where technology and form, merge into one and become transparent

to the user. You won't be able to separate the two. This is where nanotechnology

becomes the underlying theme in design and function, blending into one body for

the pleasure of humans to enjoy and drive.

Robert Burke
1st September, 2011 @ 04:40 pm PDT

Ford and Chevy are sickenly nostolgic with their designs. If they have a forward thinking mind between them, this vehicle will be available Spring2012 and the two door version would be the next Mustang.

Gargamoth
1st September, 2011 @ 05:39 pm PDT

Taking a second look, this exterior body style, it looks just like a 2010-2011 honda accord coupe. By the time Ford makes this car it'll be another old model, just from a different car maker.

Gargamoth
1st September, 2011 @ 05:44 pm PDT

If the gull wings pivoted from the centre of the roof, like they should, you would only need one door on each side. That would be cheaper and aesthetically more pleasing.

Nick 1801
2nd September, 2011 @ 01:14 am PDT

Build it and we will come.

Muraculous
2nd September, 2011 @ 06:27 am PDT

I love the look of this car. One of the nicest designs Ford has come up with in quite a while. If they were to actually bring this to market I doubt that the gullwing doors would stay. They arent practical in places that have inclement weather. All the tech inside is cool but Id like to see most of it as an option. Its not something I need. I really dont need my car telling me what to do. I think Ford could sell a lot of these on looks alone but most people will be turned off by the gadgets.

Jeff Kroll
2nd September, 2011 @ 09:13 am PDT

It's sure a shame they decided to style this car rather than make it efficiently aerodynamic. Open wheel wells hold down top speed and limit range. Duh. No boat tail, likely no belly pan. This car, well designed with exactly the same materials made to poor use building this concept, would get far better mileage, it would go faster, and have more room.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm in one of those zombie movies. Everybody's lost but me!

TogetherinParis
2nd September, 2011 @ 09:35 am PDT

This kind of thing really hurts. I WANT to like Ford...I really do. Most of my cars have been blue ovals.

BUT....their "split drive train" isn't what I'm looking for. Their "cloud" technologies (do they even know what that MEANS????) sound like they're designed by a science fiction writer from the turn of the 19th century. About the only thing they got right was the idea of simplifying the gauges when I'm stressed. DON'T turn off my cell phone, I might need it. DON'T change handling characteristics on me without my permission, I might rely on them. CERTAINLY don't add in parental controls, kids will just find ways around them.

"Longest range of a plug in hybrid" to me means "we made the fuel tank bigger, we don't think you REALLY wanted anything to be electric anyway". Tell me about the electric only range, tell me about the fuel economy, tell me about the max speed in electric only mode.

And why are they showing gull wing doors only to say "but you can't have any"???? Yes, they're stupid and impractical, but why show them in the first place?

Bryan Paschke
2nd September, 2011 @ 10:50 am PDT

Why is ford punishing us? I suppose it looks sort of pretty, but it's ruined by the pointless technology ideas, impractical design in general, gull-wings that look like they'll snap off in a breeze and a roof with zero structural integrity.

When will the car manufacturers wise up and hand over the designing to the engineers instead of the pot-smoking product design hippies.

PeetEngineer
2nd September, 2011 @ 11:25 am PDT

Re PeetEngineer

Gull wing doors open fully in any space big enough to get beside your car, making getting in and out easier, and you can assume that the hinges a at least as strong as on a conventional door.

There is no reason to think that there is not adequate roof integrity. A little steel tubing can go a long way.

Slowburn
2nd September, 2011 @ 01:13 pm PDT

They aren't going to build it, and I couldn't afford it if they did.

Bring back the Ranchero. Use the Taurus platform. That I could afford and would buy.

William H Lanteigne
2nd September, 2011 @ 06:25 pm PDT

Too bad they kept the ugly Ford badge on this concept.

They should have made a new one for this beauty.

Ralphe Birkett
3rd September, 2011 @ 06:11 pm PDT
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