DEARBORN, MI – The Ford Fleet Product and Business Conference was held June 21 - 23 in Dearborn, Mich. at Ford's Dearborn Product Development Center. This event was a chance for fleet managers to see Ford’s latest vehicles and get more insight into Ford's fleet-related operations.

The event started with a business meeting and reception at the Detroit Institute of Arts on day one, where the automaker provided an overview of its fleet business. Day two featured the ride and drive event and a customer reception at Greenfield Village. The event featured a range of different opportunities for attendees to drive Ford vehicles, including an off-road course for driving the Explorer and F-150, a Transit Connect City Drive, and a full-line street drive, among others.

You can see photos from the event in our gallery here.

Automotive Fleet spoke with a number of fleet managers who attended about their impressions of the event and the vehicles they had a chance to drive.

Event Impressions - Dedicated to the Fleet Industry

Brenda Davis, commodity manager, fleet COE & temporary services for Baker Hughes, said the event provided an opportunity to meet Ford’s executive leadership and support team.

“We heard Mark Fields, president of the Americas talk about the importance of including their strategy of driving Quality, Green, Safer, and Smarter products into their vehicles’ DNA,” Davis said. “We were also fortunate to hear from Alan Mulally, president & CEO of Ford Motor Company expound on the commitment to building Quality vehicles.” 

Kim LaRue, fleet operations manager for Goodman Networks, said the event provided her with a positive impression of Ford’s management and their dedication to the fleet industry.

“Ford did a nice job of delivering a consistent message – consistent from the past few years,” LaRue said. “I think they have done a nice job of managing through the economic storm, and Ford Fleet has benefited from that management. I always get the impression from Ford senior management that the fleet business is important to them, which of course is what we, the fleet customer, want to hear.”

Guy H. Young, VP - fleet services for Western Exterminator Company was impressed with the company’s dedication to its fleet customers as well.

“Off the track, Ford demonstrated keen insight into their management savvy for properly building and managing fleet sales,” Young said. “As fleet customers, Ford has made it clear that we are valued customers, even to the point of having CEO Alan Mulally, just named ‘CEO of the Year’ by Chief Executive magazine, speak to us from the floor of the Henry Ford Museum. Mr. Mulally took the opportunity to highlight his passion for the Fleet customer and for the industry as a whole. Thanks to Ford for a worthwhile trip.”

Vehicle Impressions – The F-150 Raises the Bar

Davis said she was impressed with the F-150 equipped with the EcoBoost engine and had the opportunity to drive it on the test track, in addition to other vehicles used every day in her company’s fleet.

“The F-150 truck is a great combination of power and fuel economy and with the half-ton truck instrumental in our business requirements, this is a huge step in the right direction,” Davis said. “I was also invited to attend a SuperDuty research session to talk specifically about the function of the truck, and we were asked how this truck could be even better. Ford Motor Company not only does a great job of listening to its customers, but they actually implement our ideas into their designs.”

Don Yegan, fleet manager for Stantec, an architecture, engineering, and design consulting firm, gave his impressions of a couple of different vehicles, the Transit Connect Electric and the F-150.

“Ford has developed four new engines for the F-150, a vehicle we have many of at Stantec,” Yegan said. “We need to explore smaller engine displacements to see how we can save fuel, and this was the perfect place to try each engine and see how they perform against each timed drag races no less!”

Yegan also had good things to say about the Transit Connect Electric.

“With a range of 60-80 real world miles, it certainly could fit a number of job applications for a wide range of companies,” Yegan said. “This is a joint project with Azure Dynamics, and they have done a great job with packaging of the batteries along with ride and handling characteristics. It's pretty peppy, too!”

LaRue said she thought it was a good event overall and that she appreciated the chance to drive the F-150 on off-road terrain given its use at her company.

“I drove the F-150 since that is the primary truck in my fleet,” LaRue said. “I hadn’t had a chance to drive it, so I appreciated the opportunity at the show. The field is going to enjoy the truck. It handles nicely on the open road and did a great job on the off-road terrain.  One of the reasons we purchased the Ford was due to the extra box length and the towing capacity.”

Ray Haering, acquisition specialist at Florida Power & Light, said he was most impressed with the overall performance of Ford’s EcoBoost engine in the F-150, adding that it was quick off the line. He was also impressed with the 2012 Focus’ smooth handling and its NVH characteristics.

Young with Western Exterminator Company was also impressed with the power the EcoBoost can produce, especially when compared to previous V-8 models.

“After test ‘racing’ two new F-150s, one with the base engine 3.7L four-valve V-6, the other with the premium 3.5L V-6 EcoBoost engine, it is very clear Ford engineers have raised the bar again,” Young said. “The engines are destined to squash the notion that a full-size truck must have a large V-8 to be legit. Ford has done its homework!”

For Stephanie Rogers, vehicle program administrator for Allergan, this was her first time attending the Ford Fleet Product & Business Conference.

“I thought it was well organized. Transportation from the airport was easy to follow,” she said. “The hotel and event registration was easy. I felt there were plenty of cars available for the Fleet Street Driver. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes (okay, maybe 10 for the Mustang.)”

Rogers said she had the opportunity to drive a number of vehicles at the event, including the Flex, Edge, Escape Hybrid, Explorer, Taurus, and Fusion.

“The cars all handled well on the track,” Rogers said. “I was also able to drive in the F-150 drag race - I didn’t win my race. The off-road track for the Explorer and F-150 was a lot of fun.”

A Ford technology that a couple of fleet managers mentioned as impressive, though it takes some getting used to, was the automaker’s Park Assist option.

“I was amazed by the Park Assist demo on the Ford Flex,” Rogers said. “It was a very unnatural feeling to let the car steer itself to park, but it was truly amazing. I could see where this feature would reduce the number of accidents.”

“A new feature from Ford is a Park Assist option that became available last model year, and it is a bit unnerving watching your car determine if a parking space is large enough to fit in, and then back into it without you touching the wheel,” Yegan said. “Wouldn't you have loved to have that feature when you completed your first driver's test?”

In all, the fleet managers we spoke with came away from the event with positive impressions of Ford's management and its vehicles.

By Greg Basich

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet