Jan 24, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Excerpts from a long cover story and a Q&A with CEO Bill Ford. Comments: 1. Echoes many other media analysts who say Ford and GM can save themselves by getting people excited about green advanced-technology cars. 2. Highlights role of William McDonough -- we announced in September http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/calcars-news/message/148 that we're working with him. 3. Doesn't give any indication they're considering PHEVs, which The NY Times urges them to build: http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/calcars-news/message/254.
Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006 Can This Man Save The American Auto Industry? Part rebel, part prince, Bill Ford believes a green revolution can fix his family's troubled company. But can he make cars you'll crave? By DORINDA ELLIOTT / DETROIT
Why did Bill Ford, great-grandson of the auto company's founder, take on this responsibility when he could have left it to hired professionals? It helps to understand that he is a man of epic contradictions. His family practically invented the auto industry, not to mention blue-collar consumerism. Brilliant, cantankerous Henry Ford made the first mass-produced car, the Model T, and paid workers enough so they could afford to buy one. That makes great-grandson Bill industrial royalty: he comes from a competitive, dynastic clan that cannot be separated from the nameplate on your Mustang. But he also has a complex, even squishy side; he's a passionate environmentalist who has studied Buddhist philosophy and thinks a lot about the future of the world.
So while he worries about his employees, Ford Motor's boss believes--belatedly, perhaps--that nothing short of a cultural revolution will save the family firm, which, like General Motors, seems to have all but lost a 30-year war with Toyota and other foreign companies for dominance of the U.S. auto market. This week he is unveiling a plan, which he calls the "Way Forward," a last-ditch effort to save the company by taking some big chances. Ford has surrendered market share in the U.S. but figures that a smaller, more innovative company can stir more passion among its customers.
He wants to blow up the company's hierarchical traditions, trim the ranks of bureaucrats and encourage a climate of risk taking. He will go out on a limb with bolder car designs (in fact, one new model is called the Edge). And he will gamble that saving the planet from the car industry is the biggest long-term priority of all, so he will pour billions of dollars into eco-friendly factories and cars. Most notably, the company will dramatically increase production of its hybrid gas-electric models, promising to produce 250,000 a year by 2010, a tenfold increase from last year's output. "The old way of doing things doesn't work," Ford says. "Is [this] risky? Of course it's risky. But I tell you what: Going the way we were going is the highest risk of all."
Although Ford Motor's new plan will hack costs, Bill Ford knows the real question is whether his company can produce cars that have the quality, style and value that drivers want.
The staging ground for Ford's innovation revolution is the top-secret Piquette Project. Unknown by all but the very top-level Ford executives, the program is aimed at nothing short of reinventing Detroit. It's named after the third-floor Piquette plant skunk works where Henry Ford and a group of engineers first developed the idea of the assembly line and experimented with lighter materials to create a car that could be mass-produced. The specific goals and the deadlines of the Piquette project are secret. But company officials say it harks back to Henry Ford's innovative experiments with soy-based polymers and the idea of agriculture and industry being closely linked. "The mission was, 'Could Ford design the Model T of the next century?'" says William McDonough, an expert on green architecture who is running the sustainability part of the project, involving recyclable and biodegradable materials.
The CEO thinks the attitude within the project will be contagious for the whole company. "Piquette helps institutionalize innovation," Ford says. For the most part it exists virtually, through e-mailed sketches, proposals and blue-sky ideas. A team of designers, engineers and manufacturing gurus is brainstorming everything from how to make a business plan to how production should be organized to how to employ biodegradable materials. The ultimate goal: a recycled, reusable car.
Business consultants would call that a "stretch" goal, a worthy target yet one that seems beyond a firm's capabilities. And maybe too dreamy for a company that needs to do the basics better? "I don't buy the criticism out there," says Anne Stevens, chief operating officer of Ford's troubled domestic business. "For all the reasons they say Bill's not the man for the job, I say he's the right one. At so many companies decisions are driven by quarterly results. Here we're making decisions that are about the next 100 years. How many CEOs in America are like that?"
Nor did Ford always assume he would work for the family firm. "He was a bit of a rebel as a young man," says Robert Kreipke, in-house corporate historian. "There was a bit of the 'corporations are the bad guys' thing. He wrestled with that. But in the end, he thought he could maybe change things from the inside." He has worked all over the company, from the assembly line to the labor-relations department to running Ford's Switzerland operation. When he became chairman, Ford pushed two projects that have since become important signs of where the company is heading: he rebuilt the Rouge plant, which now has a roof of green grass, skylights and a program that turns polluting paint fumes into hydrogen fuel cells, and produced the Escape Hybrid, the first SUV hybrid to hit the market.
The skeptics still call Ford a hypocrite. Some environmentalists challenge him for producing huge, smog-spewing trucks. Ford counters that his job is to make the company as environmentally sound as possible while making a profit. The new F-250 Super Chief concept truck, unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in January, epitomizes the company's dual mission: the gigantic, superdeluxe truck is equipped with everything big, including brown leather club chairs and flat-screen TVs. The surprise is that it is designed to run on any one of three fuels: hydrogen, a mixture of 85% ethyl alcohol or gasoline.
Bill Ford has an even bigger legacy in mind. He wants Ford Motor to lead in alternative-fuel technologies, proving his belief that you can make profits and do good at the same time. If he succeeds--and the odds aren't necessarily in his favor--Ford Motor could help save the U.S.'s manufacturing base. "Bill could go down as a truly historic American figure, like his great-grandfather," says Brinkley, "or he could just be a guy who watched over the collapse of a family company."
Ford certainly doesn't talk like a guy who is about to become history's roadkill. "My goal is to fight Toyota and everybody else and come out on top," he says. Eventually Ford hopes to engage Washington--and the country--in a broad dialogue about such urgent issues as energy policy, health care and the future of manufacturing. "Sure I'd like to play a role," he says. "But it doesn't do much good for me to be out trying to solve national and world issues if we're not fixing ourselves." That, of course, would be Job 1.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1151801,00.html Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006 "My Goal Is To Fight Toyota..." By DORINDA ELLIOTT, JOSEPH SZCZESNY
Bill Ford is so committed to the environment that his office is decorated with biodegradable curtains and carpets. He sits at his uncle Edsel's old desk, near a photo of himself breaking boards to earn a black belt in Taekwondo. His favorite car: Mustang. He recently spoke with TIME's Dorinda Elliott and Joseph Szczesny. Excerpts:
CAN YOU SAVE THE COMPANY ON YOUR OWN? Absolutely not. If you look at the big issues that face our industry--whether it is health care, global warming, energy dependence, pensions--the problem I have is, each one of those issues requires both tremendous national [and] international cooperation. There's no way any one company can provide answers to any of them unilaterally.
DO YOU HAVE TIME TO CATCH UP? We don't have a lot of time, but we're changing on the run. We've done it before, and we will do it this time.
ISN'T TOYOTA GOING TO RULE THE WORLD? No! My goal is to fight Toyota and everybody else and come out on top. I'm not ceding anything to Toyota. They're an excellent company, and they're a terrific competitor, but I look forward to taking them on.