ford_0Auto manufacturer Ford Motor Company plans to use its CEO’s keynote presence on the Consumer Electronics Show stage in January to demonstrate not only its automotive ingenuity, but also how much it is addressing the always-connected lifestyle of its customers in the design of its vehicles. At the center of all of it? The cloud.

The company’s Ford Evos Concept car will make its first appearance in North America at the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas, Jan. 10-13, 2012. Ford previewed the vehicle at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Among other features, the car promises to enhance the experience of driving through the application of cloud computing—exchanging data between vehicle, office and home—to address functions like driver personalization and adaptability.

According to Ford, the cloud-based technology in the car will address applications including adaptive vehicle dynamics, driver health and well-being and smart electrification. Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally will participate in the CES Innovation Power Panel on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 at 9 a.m.

The Evos Concept will be able to integrate on-board data about driver preferences with cloud-based information such as work schedules, music and weather conditions and local data delivered through vehicle-to-vehicle communications, according to Ford. The company characterized it as “a personal assistant to handle some of the usual routines of a daily commute.”

An article at Forbes.com quotes Ford Executive Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. on the importance of the integration of transportation and technology:

“Evos basically brings the cloud into the vehicle and that really starts to accelerate this whole connected transportation theme,” William Clay “Bill” Ford Jr., the automaker’s executive chairman, told me when I sat down with him at the Four Seasons in San Francisco late last week … For Bill Ford, the car in the cloud is more than just cool technology; it’s the harbinger of a fundamental shift in the way automakers will do business in the future. Rather than just sell cars and trucks, Ford and its competitors will market mobility services to help resolve what he calls “global gridlock” as the emerging middle classes in countries like China and India trade bicycles and motorcycles for tens of millions of sedans and SUVs. “I believe it’s very important to Ford today, and more importantly to Ford tomorrow, that we really begin solving these problems before they become huge issues,” he says.

Rival U.S. automaker General Motors also recently made a cloud-based moved, albeit a very different one: The company announced a commitment to using Google Apps to address the ever-changing IT needs of its 100,000-plus workforce.

Ford’s announcement certainly is more consumer-focused, but IT managers should take note: If the future of automobile development is, like so many other sectors, to be centered around the capabilities of the cloud, application developers and enterprise IT managers alike should be considering how that factors into their decisions and what they can develop to make their employees more productive while driving—whether that’s driving on or for the job, or just driving to the job. The possibilities for cloud-based applications that tie into enterprise systems and help workforces become more productive more of the time—even when commuting to and from work—are seemingly endless.

For its part, the auto industry expressed some disappointment at Ford’s announcement, if only because the North American unveiling of the Ford Evos Concept is slated for a technology trade show rather than an auto show. A post on the auto site egmCarTech laments the absence of the Evos Concept at an upcoming gathering of the auto world:

At the 2011 LA Auto Show, and we’re sad to report this, show goers will not see the Ford Evos Concept, which made its world debut at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Instead, Ford will show the Evos at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas … Why? Well, Ford usually has a huge presence at the CES shows and CEO Alan Mulally will be the speaker for the fourth consecutive year. We’re guessing Ford wants to make a lasting impression on all the geeks that visit the CES show.

Once again, it appears, the U.S. auto industry has been left behind by innovation.