Ford Motor, getting an early jump on New Year's prognostication andmarketing, offers it own take on the top 13 consumer trends for 2013 onThursday - including the rise of minimalism, a return to actualexperiences rather than e-life, and a push for quantifiable happiness.
Whilethe trends are not specific to the auto industry, Ford says it can helpconsumers achieve some of their goals especially with its "electrified"cars.
But the top-ranked trend - "Trust is the New Black" -seems almost ironic as Ford grapples with the recent recall of morethan 89,000 of two of its most important vehicles: the 2013 Ford Escapeand Fusion with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine.
Twelve Escapes andone Fusion have caught fire. But the company says it has no explanationfor why - nor a fix for the problem. It has asked owners to park thevehicles and is providing those customers with free rental cars.
OtherFord vehicles and features may fit better with the themes. Just asfitness buffs like to know how many miles they've run and caloriesthey've burned, Ford futurist and study author Sheryl Connelly saysdrivers like to feel good about their automotive achievements. She saysit's part of a "Help Me Help Myself" trend.
Features such asFord's instrument panel "SmartGauge" help them do this by programmingthe information they want to know, such as average and instantmiles-per-gallon, Connelly says. Leaves and vines grow on the screen totrack and reward driving efficiency.
Telling others about thissuccess is important, as "accountability increases when we start toshare our goals with friends and family," Connelly says. The MyFordmobile app keeps a record of how owners have driven and how much fuel orbattery power they've saved and helps them post it to social networks.
Experts were mixed on whether Ford is on target.
GeorgeMagliano, senior economist for IHS Automotive, agrees that the "Help MeHelp Myself" trend squares with those who aren't thinking about "whodrives the fastest" but competing on "who drives the farthest" on atank of gas or electrical charge.
Still, Magliano questionswhether people are going to accelerate their move toward hybrid andelectric cars, which remain costly and are plagued by slow sales.
"Everybody talks about the environment and wants to be green, but a lot of people won't pay for it," he says.
Thereport, "Looking Further with Ford,"cites the move away fromconspicuous consumption as a trend for 2013, although Magliano notes ithas been widely discussed since the recession. In fact, he's morecritical of Ford's effort to move the Escape upscale - which heconsiders a mistake considering consumers' emphasis on value - than lastFriday's big recall.
Author and former Road & Track editorMatt DeLorenzo doubts the report is of much use to automakers, eventhough it offers them some cautionary notes. He calls it "a thinlydisguised marketing and sales ploy that surfs on some superficialpop-culture trends that don't really have an impact on building the carsof tomorrow."