Ford finds Magic in Mushrooms

By Allan Harris & Corey Conley

2010 was not kind to the “Big Three” – Ford, General Motors, and the Chrysler Group. The good General and Chrysler took the biggest dive, going through a bankruptcy and restructuring process. Ford got high marks for dodging the bankruptcy and turning down public bailout money.

Ford has paired this with a lineup of compelling products: A new V6 Mustang that pairs 305 horsepower with 31 miles per gallon on the highway and a solid roster of small-car options in its new Fiesta and Focus models – the latter earning high praise for its 38 mpg highway rating along with a best-in-class 160 base horsepower while the former drew accolades for high style and handling in a small package. Ford is, quite simply, the most competitive American automaker.

Ford Focus and Fusion

These products are just a sampling of Ford’s new-found commitment to innovation. The house Henry built is less obvious in pushing the automotive envelope, but is still pushing in far-reaching ways.

The Ford Mushroom Console

Mentioning the “mushroom console” in your car is more likely to start a conversation about the dangers of recreational drug use than a discussion on innovation, but if your parents stage an intervention, just tell them about how Ford is actually using mushroom-based foam in place of synthetic alternatives. The mycelia mushrooms are cultured and grown in specific shapes to fill the center console, door panels, and bumpers. This foam dampens sounds and absorbs energy in a crash and happens to be fire- and water-proof.

Ford Mycelia Mushroom Mold

The most important part of this technology is it is already in Ford cars. Plenty of automakers feature “sustainable” and “green” building materials – in their concept show cars. When it comes time to actually put vehicles on the showroom floor, the economics of petroleum based synthetics often win out despite their good intentions. (To be sure, Ford also weighed the economics of switching to ‘shroom-foam, and found it wouldn’t increase costs.)

Ford’s Green Strategy

Ford is doubling down on this green strategy: soon algae, wheat straw and cooked chicken feather will replace approximately 30 pounds of plastic in every vehicle. Soy based foam already comforts our derrieres in the cushions of the seats – to the tune of around 2 million cars. In the future there are plans to use soy-based plastics and foams to replace around 30% of their petro-plastics.

While other automakers are rushing to establish green-cred with half-baked hybrids and glossy, pie-in-the-sky technology, Ford is pushing out real, substantive changes in the way it engineers and manufactures cars – I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

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