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Ford Drives a Mile
In an Older Person's Suit

Ford Motor Company
Customer Relationship Center
P.O. Box 6248
Dearborn, MI 48126

Designing for All, Marketing for the Young

A popular television ad pictured a group of 20-something passengers barely wedging their Ford Focus into the last available space in a parking garage. Realizing they couldn't even open the doors, they popped the rear trunk lid and climbed over the fold-down rear seats. Another ad featured a similar group apprehensively holding full cups of coffee as their car rolls over a series of railroad tracks, demonstrating the car's smooth ride.

Ford Focus

The 2000 Ford Focus

As ever-larger and thirstier SUV's met the gas crisis of 2000, renewed interested in practical small cars began to grow. Among new products ready to meet this interest was the Focus, Ford of Europe's attempt to develop a true "world car". Cited by a major consumer magazine as "very easy to get in and out of; the cabin has a spacious, airy feel, and the driving position is high, which makes for good visibility" Also noted was that spacious trunk, rear seat room and ".climate-control switches that are easy to use and radio buttons that aren't a stretch to reach."

Understanding Lifespan Changes

These advantages were hardly accidental. The development program for the Ford Focus coincided with heightened awareness of the needs of older drivers among designers and engineers at Ford. "As we grow older, our vision changes. We're more susceptible to glare, and we don't adapt as quickly to changing conditions. It's harder for elderly drivers to use their peripheral vision," Jeffrey Pike explained. A design analysis engineer at Ford, Pike was describing how Ford was beginning to design for the growing population of senior drivers by sensitizing staff to the ergonomics of aging.

"It's one thing to read customer feedback in a marketing study. It's a whole different thing to feel what they're feeling while driving a car, said Vitek Bhise, Manager of Human Factors and Ergonomics at Ford. Feeling the effects of changes in vision and other functional changes that come with aging was what the "Third-Age Suit" was all about. "With the Third Age Suit, you lose about 25 percent of your strength, you have about 25 percent less flexibility and it's harder to get in and out of a car", added Gretchen Zorbel, a Ford human factors and ergonomics engineer.

Workshops on Aging

The Third Age Suit was the result of a series of experiential workshops based on an exercise developed in Canada and organized by Age Concern, a UK charity. In the workshops, participants were "dressed" in goggles, ear plugs, restrictive arm bands, wrist and ankle weights, and gloves to simulate reductions in sensory abilities, range of motion, and strength that can occur with age. Participants were then given everyday tasks to perform, using only their residual abilities.

Younger Designers Suit Up

The workshops were so successful in helping participants to understand the effects of aging, that Ford decided to develop a simulation "suit" to sensitize their design and engineering staff. It was particularly useful for younger members of the staff. "When you're young and fit enough to leap out of a car without effort, it's hard to appreciate why an older person may need to lever themselves out of the driver's seat by pushing on the seatback and the door frame", said Mike Bradley ergonomics specialist in Ford's Dunton, England design center. "But try leaping out while you are wearing this suit and you really understand the challenges we face."


Ford's "Third Age Suit"d
Ford's "Third Age Suit"

Show "Young", but Think "Ageless"

Ford's design development teams began using the Third Age Suits in ergonomics research to look toward the future needs of their customers.

"The numbers show that mature and elderly drivers are becoming an increasingly large percentage of the motoring public. So, with the Third Age Suit, we believe we have an advantage in knowing what that large demographic group demands", said Richard Perry-Jones, Ford's Vice President for Product Development.

Ford's television ad could just as easily have demonstrated the ease of entry and exit for a cane-user with the Focus's extra-wide doors and a number of other features especially useful for drivers with limitations due to age or disability. But Ford chose instead to follow a long-held automotive marketing approach: "You can sell a young man's car to an old man, but you can't sell an old man's car to a young man".

Adding Performance and Accessibility to the FocusAt the 2002 New York International Auto Show, Ford introduced a "tuned" version of the Focus, the ZX3. The ZX3 incorporated upgraded tires, brakes, air intake, exhaust, and suspension systems, as well as special paint and upholstery.


Focus ZX3d

At the same time, Ford's Mobility Motoring Program unveiled a ZX3 with power-swivel driver and passenger seats and hand controls with simultaneous one-hand control of both throttle and brake.


Power-swivel seatsd


hand controlsd

This Ford is not only tuned for the street, it is tuned for active people with disabilities, said Chris Theodore, vice president of North America Product Development for Ford.

Ford's "Mobility Motoring" Program

Ford established its Mobility Motoring in 1992. Since then, the program has assisted more than 85,000 individuals and organizations with more than $72 million in reimbursement funds. The program provides up to $1,000 toward the cost of adaptive equipment or up to $200 on alerting devices, lumbar support or running boards when installed on new Ford, Mercury or Lincoln vehicles.


Associated Press. "Automakers May Offer More Accessible Vehicles to Consumers". April 21, 2002. Available:

"First Look at the Ford Focus". Consumer Reports, May, 2000. Yonkers, NY. Consumers Union. P. 9.

Gorbatov, U. "Mobility 'Tuned' Focus Breaks Boundaries for Disabled Drivers". March 28, 2002.

Reese, Halle. "Age Wise". Friendly Exchanges. Farmers Insurance, Winter, 1999. Pp. 38-39.

Royal Ford. "Today's new cars are designed to suit all ages". The Boston Globe

Warne, Caroline, "Standards Appropriate for the Elderly". Consumer Policy Committee, British Standards Institution. London. 1988.

"Small Cars Grow Up". Consumer Reports, September, 2000. Yonkers, NY. Consumers Union. Pp. 54-56.

June, 2002

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