Ford Motor Company has made some sweeping product plan announcements that will hugely change the direction of the company in the coming years, changes that say a lot about the company and its culture but much the automobile market as well.
In spite of a booming car market Ford has been suffering both in sales and in a mojo of sorts. One look at their lackluster product line loaded with slow selling cars with little personality or value and top-heavy with trucks and SUVs will tell you there is a lack of balance in product development priority.
It shows however that pickup trucks sell well regardless of whether they are all that good or not. Being an American brand has its advantages as the buyer demographic tends to want to “buy American” regardless of the fact Toyota and Nissan full size pickups are actually more American in content than any of those from the Big Three.
Cars like compacts and sedans are a different lot however. Really good choices are vast and the buyer demographic there will pick what’s best in quality, value, and yes style over any brand allegiance. Ford and Lincoln both have quite literally failed here, failed for decades to build the quality people want, the value they expect, and even capture the image they want.
In their announcement to cancel their next generations of the Fiesta, Fusion and Taurus and cease production on the existing ones, Ford’s Jim Hackett, president and CEO said, “Where we can raise the returns of under performing parts of our business by making them more fit, we will. If appropriate returns are not on the horizon, we will shift that capital to where we can play and win.”
What he said is that Ford has admitted defeat. They cannot win in the car business so they are getting out of it. They have deemed the market for traditional cars no longer worth trying for and have given up.
While Ford will continue building the Ford Mustang for some undetermined amount of time and will import one model of the all-new 2019 Ford Focus “Active Crossover” from China as their only car models going forward, by 2020 they tell us 90% of their lineup will be trucks and SUVs.
This may be a stunning announcement for people who live and breathe cars, but they aren’t alone. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has already made this move, though much more quietly. Their American brands build three cars all on one platform, the Dodge Charger and Challenger, the Chrysler 300. That’s it. The rest are crossovers, trucks and SUVs.
General Motors has been rumored to be on the same track, looking to cancel much of their car lines at Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick to concentrate on a more crossover and SUV laden portfolio. The Big Three will tell you this shift is due to market forces, changing consumer wants and needs.
If you talk to Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Honda about this matter however they will disagree as they see a lot of promise in the car market, selling them quite well. These companies don’t seem to be having trouble “winning” here.
I just came from the launch of the 2019 Toyota Avalon and Corolla Hatch where they have invested handily in two dynamic new cars that will likely excel in the market and have already gotten lots of interest in our video library. I’ve also recently tested the all-new 2018 Honda Accord which won my heart in spades in less than five minutes. It can be done well if you have the will to do so.
This gets me to the first question that came to mind when I heard Ford’s announcement. Is it that hard to just build a good quality car that people want? It must be.
I could go on and on but all shaming for sucking at their job aside, one has to seriously question their wisdom on the backdrop of history. What happens in when a gas crisis comes again with $5.00 a gallon gasoline and all Ford has to offer is trucks and SUVs?
We’ve seen this movie before every 10 years or so. About 10 years ago in fact when the recession hit, Ford mortgaged the company to roll out a raft of new small cars, hybrids and electrics to address the last gas crisis saying, “We’re not just a truck company anymore”.
They spent billions then to realign their product structure and get green. Yes they say they will offer hybrid variants of all the new trucks and SUVs but still, the move to drop out of the car market doesn’t seem like a good hedge for long term expansion or the who knows what happens next factor.
But this isn’t all. The other leg to Ford’s big plan to win the future is to “build a viable and profitable autonomous technology business offering the most trusted and human – centered ride hailing and goods delivery experience.”
They want to be a “mobility company” that encompasses all manner of autonomous transport and mobile solutions. That’s self driving cars and self driving delivery vehicles in simple speak. As they put it, they want to “create the Transportation Mobility Cloud of choice for cities and being an orchestrator of all digital connections from vehicle to street to business to home.”
So, instead of investing in good quality cars people want, they are going to piss billions of dollars into another black hole of uncertain pie-in-the-sky future think that few car buyers have even asked for let alone understand. That sounds like a wishful thinking gamble to me.
If buyers don’t trust Ford with their money to build them a car of quality, appeal and value enough to justify the company even making them anymore, how do the people in Dearborn believe buyers are going to suddenly trust their lives to driverless mobility devices with their name on it? I mean really?
It just seems like the company has completely lost its core, its soul and consequently its direction. It doesn’t really at all know who it is anymore and where its headed. It thinks it does, but it doesn’t. Mark my words, in another ten years they will be reinventing themselves once again or bankrupt. It’s just mind boggling.
While all of this is worth lengthy debate and it will be fore some time, this is likely 35,000 foot level rolling in the weeds for most red blooded Americans. The big question to most in flyover country is, what’s NASCAR going to become without a Ford sedan? Now chew on that!