Ford is making car parts out of shredded cash, building cars in virtual reality, and using stickers to hide its latest toys from the paparazzi. It’s all part of their mission to become a 21st century automaker.
Fortune paid a visit to the automaker’s facilities in Dearborn, Mich. to get a behind-the-scenes look at different initiatives.
What’s really spurred attention for Ford is its biomaterials research. Researchers at the auto giant have been testing different materials in the hope of replacing the petroleum-based product used to make plastic. Other than old money, Ford has found a way to use plants like bamboo, wheat, rice hulls, coconut skins, and nearly a dozen different types of cuttings to make reliable car parts. Its most successful has been its soy bean-based foam which is now in every seat cushion and headrest that Ford makes.
The company has also partnered with companies like Heinz, Coca-Cola, Proctor and Gamble, and Nike to help in the research. Ford has found a way to use Coca-Cola bottles and leftover tomato parts from Heinz ketchup to make car parts.
It doesn’t stop there. Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader of sustainability at Ford, says they might also look into animals for inspiration on how to build cars, like mimicking the gecko’s grip or studing the molecular compound of butterflies to find ways to paint a car.
It’s rare to see a company not experimenting in ways to use virtual reality. At Ford, VR is no longer something of the future—it’s embedded into the car manufacturing process. Engineers build engines, seats, and even paint the car wearing a headset. No Ford vehicle goes into production without being virtually vetted.
Ford isn’t alone in this. Almost every carmaker covers its cars with camouflage when test driving them in public. What changes is the pattern. Putting black and white dots around vehicles makes it difficult for media covering automotive and competitors to take pictures of the car.