Building better cars with big data

When car companies across the United States saw their funds quickly dwindle at the end of 2008, some predicted the end of the American auto industry. Several of the nation's largest automakers stood on the brink of bankruptcy and slashed jobs in order to avoid complete financial collapse. According to information presented by the White House, at the height of the automotive crisis, nearly 150,000 industry workers lost their jobs in a single quarter. When economic circumstances become dire and markets fluctuate, businesses need to pursue new methods of operation to weather the financial storm. In the face of economic turmoil, the Ford Motor Company turned to big data analytics to help it regain its footing in the global auto industry.

Integrating customer demands with the design process
Big data, along with the development of increasingly sophisticated sensor equipment, has allowed Ford engineers to more effectively analyze the performance of their automobiles and build vehicles based on a balance of quality and customer demands. GigaOM reported that the automaker has deployed a series of internal analytics projects to help engineers improve the design of vehicles as well as integrate external big data analysis to inform those efforts. For instance, researchers recently combed through social media sites to decide whether their latest line of Escape sport-utility vehicles should come standard equipped with a manual or power liftgate. Analysis of these sources found that consumers overwhelmingly favored the latter.

Easing customer concerns with big data
One of the ways Ford has leveraged data analytics is by easing anxieties relating to its burgeoning Energi line of plug-in hybrid cars. With any new and unfamiliar product, consumers will invariably worry about performance. With hybrid cars, the common concern has been the range of operability and possibility that a motorist will become stranded because he or she will not be able to locate a recharge station when the vehicle's battery is depleted. Using data gathered by the Energi's onboard wireless module, Ford engineers can provide drivers with a range of useful information, including the car's performance, battery life and the nearest charging stations.

Ford's commitment to big data has helped the company enjoy some its most robust sales figures in years.  According to Autodata Corp., sales for Ford's Fusion line of midsize sedans has necessitated a projected 9 percent increase in North American production in the second quarter, The Associated Press reported. In order to meet the increased production demands, the automaker will add a shift of 1,200 workers to the plant responsible for the vehicle's production. Matching customer desires with production changes, Ford has been able to roll out cars that are more palatable to current consumer tastes. By leveraging Hadoop big data, companies can provide customers with the products they truly want.

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