While American cars tend to be thought of as less than edgy, Ford has done a great job of looking forward, and in recent years (especially the last five), the company has pushed the envelope, designing more interesting, future-looking cars, using a plethora of unique and lower-impact materials.


Ford has been using a soy-based foam in its car seats for a few years, looking to cut the company's carbon footprint and also to reduce the amount of petroleum products used in their cars. Besides using renewable materials rather than a nonrenewable one (oil), this move leaves Ford in a more economically sustainable place too — fluctuations in oil and gas prices can wreak havoc on a materials budget that’s made from the stuff. Soy, cellulose, sugarcane, corn and other food stocks are much more reliable crops for making interior parts.


Ford now has established companies and start-ups alike coming to them with new materials and processes. They are looking at a resin made from carrot pulp (what’s left after making carrot juice or extracting sugar from carrots) and sugar beets. Other companies are working with them to turn “renewable food stocks like sugarcane and corn, instead of petroleum, into bio-based chemicals,” says Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert for Plastics Research at Ford. And they've already put an instrument panel foam made from castor oil into the 2012 Focus


Pre-consumer waste from a jeans manufacturing facility, rather than new cotton, makes up layers of sound-deadening and damps out vibration within door panels, and the newest materials partnership is with Scotts Miracle-Gro, which is providing Ford with coconut fiber — which used to be burned — to reinforce plastics that make up armrests and other door components. “This is a win-win situation. We’re taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles,” says Lee. 


Another surprise from Ford is the way the company has really mixed it up — literally — with new colors for vehicles.


Working in-house to make the time between ID of a new color trend and getting it on a vehicle shorter (it’s now about a year and a half — which is much shorter than ever before), the company is rolling out some pretty gorgeous, unique colors on 2012 models. “The technology available today has given us so many more options,” said Susan Swek, group chief designer, Color & Material Design for Ford. “We are able to manipulate color, and play with the tones and shades and do absolutely remarkable things.” Kodiak brown (a rich-looking sparkly black-brown), frosted glass (a Caribbean clean green with a hint of aqua) and ginger ale (inspired by metallic running pants and Balinese idol paints) are some of the 10 colors that will enliven the boring black-grey-white-silver ordinariness of the roads today. For anyone who loves color, this comes as a relief.  


“Color is a simple way to allow people to add a personal touch to their lives. It’s something that speaks to them and expresses a little bit of their personality,” says Swek.