Electronic Shifter for Ford Motor Company

students looking at gear shifting

In June of 2013, CDR director Greg Thomas made a trip to Ford Motor Company headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., to present the work of the CDR's spring semester student research project. The design brief was to conceptualize a new gearshift for the entire Ford line of automatic shifters, ranging from the F150 pickup to the Fiesta.

This is the first time Ford had seriously considered a new shifter design since its invention over 60 years ago, and the first time a university design team had been asked to participate in its creation.

The goal of the project was for CDR students to develop an “eShifter” design, for automatic transmission cars and trucks that could be implemented on Ford-branded vehicles. Specific criteria the students considered included:

  • Matching the design to the Ford brand.
  • The design needed to be implemented across all Ford brand vehicles, including the Fiesta, Mustang, F150, Taurus, and all others.
  • The design must take into account how and where it will be integrated into the vehicles.
  • The design must be intuitive and not prone to errors.
  • The design should consider that Ford's markets are globall.
  • The design should account for both left hand- and right hand-drive vehicles.

At the end of the semester-long project three teams developed a total of six proposed shifters. Each team was able to test their designs with potential Ford customers in a public venue, using working prototypes they had designed. Ballots for public scoring, still and video captures of the products being used recorded the thoughts and reactions of those who participated.

The summary of this test was made in the form of a preliminary presentation to a Ford representative who had been part of the project since its launch. Afterward the teams had the opportunity to refine their solutions before director Thomas took them to Dearborn for the final presentation to Ford senior administrators, researchers, and engineers.

This was the second project conducted by students of the CDR and Ford. Most recently, Ford motors has provided a 2014 Transit Connect Wagon for an ongoing research project involving mobile healthcare in rural parts of Kansas.