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We Can All Learn From Hybrids

Show-to-Show: Thoughts from the Show Floor by James Morris

I have never been a “car guy.” I am pretty sure that I was not born with the “car fascination gene” at all. For most of my life, I have been fairly indifferent to them in general.  As a sales pro, I do spend a great deal of time in my car, so comfort, safety and four tires are more important than anything else.

Recently things changed.  Last month my mother in-law decided to replace her aging vehicle – as it seemed to be on the brink of a cycle of expensive repairs.  Due to my lack of interest in the whole thing, I left the researching and the buying or leasing advice to my capable wife.  My only input was to mention that I am a big fan of former Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally. And so you see my level of interest.

My mother in-law ended up leasing a Ford Fusion Energi, which is a plug-in hybrid.  Before I actually drove it, I’m embarrassed to say that I knew very little about hybrids beyond the fact that they apparently use less gas and our Director of Brand Development swears by them. I hadn’t paid much attention to how cars have changed over the last five or ten years.  It’s been educational and really kind of a blast to drive her new car.

What struck me almost immediately is how much data she is getting when she drives.  When you turn it on, you see that there is about 20 miles worth of electric charge to use before it switches over to gas.  Her round-trip commute is just about 20 miles, so I figured that most days she would use no gas at all.

That didn’t happen the first few days.  Why not?  It is all in the data.  Every time she hits the brakes in this car, instant feedback tells her how efficiently she brings the car to a halt.  If she hits the brakes too fast, she might get a rating of 72% efficiency.  But if done just right, 100% is definitely possible.  SHE needs to get better, notthe car.

Then, there is accelerating and coasting; her ratings weren’t good on either front. If she made a conscious effort to coast going down hills or when anticipating a red light, that would have to help. Right?  I also noticed that her battery capacity dwindled really fast if she cranked the A/C.  That was another opportunity for improvement.

So after driving for decades, it was really surprising to see how quickly she chose to change her driving behavior.  And it worked!  She is now recapturing so much energy as she drives that she makes the round trip with a good three miles of battery left.  And it’s been really satisfying to watch her miles-per-gallon data climb every day.  It’s over 87 MPG now, and I really think we can get it over 100 MPG if she keeps doing what she is doing.  Amazing really!

What this brought home to me is how valuable the power of having timely, specific, actionable metrics really is.   Though I’m pretty ignorant about cars, it’s not as if I never knew that I could save gas by accelerating more slowly, coasting more, and braking more gently.   But I never had solid and timely data to inform me of how I was doing from one drive to the next.

As a Marketing Executive, it is hard to overestimate the importance of good metrics as a motivational tool.  If your team has solid, timely information on how their effort leads to performance—and how that performance is linked to the company’s mission, vision, and goals—then they have much more incentive to make adjustments and strive for improvement.

I always knew that Alan Mulally had done a great job to change how Ford used metrics.  But I never imagined that one of his cars would change how I view them. So at long last I’m really fascinated by a car.  If you ask my mother in-law, the only downside is, my “research” is not giving her much of a chance to drive her new car.