DETROIT -- While engineers tackle the challenges of making vehicles safer and less polluting, the biggest roadblock to new technologies is getting customers to pay for them, said the head of Ford Motor Co.'s North American operations.
"We have a good idea of what features customers will want in their vehicles by 2010," Jim Padilla said. "But the paradox is that they don't expect to pay more for their vehicles."
That puts the burden on engineers to find ways to cut costs from vehicles without taking away features that consumers value, Padilla said during a speech to open the SAE World Congress last week.
As an example of the industry's technical capabilities, Padilla, Ford president for North America, said the Ford Focus is offered with stability control and side impact airbags. But the customer take rate on those options is low, he said.
"We can add all kinds of safety and environmental features," Padilla said. "The challenge is to make them inexpensive enough that customers will take them."
In the short term, he said, luxury vehicle buyers likely will be offered new safety and environmental technology first because they are the ones able to pay the higher prices that make it possible for automakers to justify the expense. "It's not a case of what would Jesus drive but what could he afford," Padilla said.