Plainly put, Ford's tiny Maverick pickup is in demand. Its first model year is already sold out, undoubtedly aided by the ongoing microchip shortage, but don't let that downplay how many customers are flocking toward a vehicle space that hasn't existed since compact pickups when out of style. In fact, it's attracting more than just customers who want a smaller truck that gets fantastic fuel economy—it's bringing in a whole new hoard of modern makers with 3D printers at their disposal, eager to customize their ride to their needs.
Ford is roping in these new customers by providing them a platform to build on. One key example is the Ford Integrated Tether System, or FITS, which is a small slot intelligently placed in the Maverick's interior that encourages customers to build their own accessories using Ford-supplied geometry. It's such a hit, in fact, that Ford could even bring FITS to other vehicles in its lineup.
I sat down with the Maverick's Design Manager Scott Anderson to talk all things FITS. Anderson is the person who coined the catchy term and who really pushed for it to be included in the Maverick, which shares the same underpinning architecture as the Ford Bronco Sport. However, the Maverick is the only vehicle that currently has FITS built in. So why doesn't the Bronco Sport have this simple tethering system too?
"We didn't invent it yet," said Anderson. "It wasn't around at that time. We invented it for Maverick who was like this truck customer, this DIY maker, right? That customer base was really into and keen on customizing their vehicle for purposes and use cases that work and support their lifestyle. Bronco Sport was much more about this solution set for enabling adventure and getting out into the wild."
Ford has since recognized the popularity of FITS in the Maverick and designers like Anderson have pondered just where the slot might make sense in other vehicles.
"I can imagine now If I ever do an [Intermediate Cycle Action] or update on the Bronco Sport, I probably want to put them in the back of the cargo deck now because a lot of people sort of make their own cargo spaces for their adventure," Anderson added. But determined not to give up any details, he also noted, "We can't comment on future product. But I think to me, it's a very novel approach to allowing simple customization. So I'd like to see it go further, of course."
Maverick customers have wasted no time making accessories that fit the FITS slot. Many owners have posted open-source designs on 3D printing file repositories like Thingiverse—think cup holders, Apple MagSafe charger bases, grocery bag hooks, and so on. That's just the start, too; some people have even bolstered small printing shops dedicated to FITS-compatible accessories.
Anderson's job as a design manager is to identify future trends. One that he recognized was the 3D printer becoming more of a household appliance. Right now, many makers with a 3D printer are set out to build low-cost solutions that solve problems for their lifestyle, and they can do that using just a few cents worth of plastic. Ford also jumped on the low-cost train, because FITS was a cheap solution to a seemingly infinite number of problems.
"It was pretty much free, right? It didn't cost a lot of money to make FITS. It just took us the willpower and the courage to do it. I think once we put it in the marketplace, it was great to see people gravitate to it and have an investment in it. So I think it might have cost a little bit more to put the tooling together, to make a tooling slide for it, but it was super, super simple."
Now, Ford does offer a list of accessories built for FITS. However, most of the ingenuity comes from the makers who are buying these trucks to fit their lifestyle needs. This, according to Anderson, is the reason that such a simple idea can really become a game-changer for vehicle owners.
"We try too hard to create the solution for people. And if you look at some of the most popular products on the planet for the last 100 years, they've never been a finished statement, they've always been a platform to build from, right? Even the iPhone." Anderson continued, "I always find that people are pretty ingenious on their own and they come up with solutions that are great. So why don't we enable them to do that?"
As for which vehicles Ford could add FITS to, that's still up in the air. Anderson mentioned the Bronco Sport as a wish-list candidate, but there are plenty of other vehicles that could benefit from FITS, so long as the slot makes sense for the overall customer base who actually buys the car or truck. And as the internet has already proved, if Ford won't do it, someone with a 3D printer will.
Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: [email protected]