Ford trends report: 2020 brought more stress than ever, but people found ways to adapt

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

People around the world are feeling overwhelmed, lonely and more stressed than they used to be — but they've also found ways to adapt to and cope with the effects of the global pandemic.

Those are a few of the takeaways from Ford Motor Co.'s latest trends report, released Monday. The report is an annual look at the microeconomic factors shaping consumers' behaviors and views.

Sheryl Connelly, Ford's chief futurist

"2020 was a hailstorm of uncertainty and chaos, and we're trying to explore what it means for 2021 and the years beyond," Sheryl Connelly, Ford's chief futurist, told The Detroit News. "We didn't set out to make this a story about COVID, but as the year went on, there was no denying that we had lost a sense of what was normal and people were wondering if we would ever return to normal — and, once we did, what it would look like."

The 2021 report homes in on seven focus areas, about which Ford surveyed people from 14 countries around the world. Topics included the "pressure points" consumers felt this year; the role of escapism in helping deal with stress; loneliness; persistent inequalities and inequities; consumers' experiences with shopping; their evolving uses and need for personal transportation; and environmental sustainability.

Globally, 69% of respondents reported feeling overwhelmed by changes in the world. Even so, 47% said adapting to the pandemic has been easier than they imagined it would be.

Numerous data points from the survey indicate young people are struggling more than anyone else; 63% of Gen Z respondents (ages 18-23 years old), for example, said it's been harder than expected to adapt.

Up 17 percentage points from three years ago, 67% of respondents said it stresses them out to follow the daily news. Many also said they feel they are spending too much time on the internet, and about half said they feel lonely on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, the pandemic appears to have reshaped how some people view their transportation options. A majority of vehicle owners said they couldn't imagine life without a personal vehicle, but of those who said the pandemic has caused them to rethink how many vehicles they need, 60% said they could use fewer vehicles.

The survey also gave some insight into how people are using their personal vehicles: Globally, more than 1 in 4 vehicle owners said they use it to relax, and about one in five use it to find privacy.

On more positive notes, the survey found that most people appreciate the steps companies have taken in recent months to improve the shopping experience for customers, more people said they felt workplaces were taking steps to accommodate the needs of working parents, and there was greater recognition among respondents that they should take better care of their mental health. Many respondents also reported feeling less rushed and like they have more free time.

While the trends are not directly related to the automotive industry, they are still important insights into consumers' behaviors and values, Connelly said. And given the industry's years-long product-planning process, it's especially important to think ahead, she noted.

"The reason we do this is to help promote new thinking, to challenge the status quo within the company," she said. "Each of these insights are meant to be a springboard for a conversation, or a platform for subject matter experts — the designers, the engineers, the marketers — to start a dialogue around these topics and see how we will respond."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski