Ford: Three ways for the future
As a struggle for bailout cash becomes a more pressing issue, I’m going to conclude my series of three ways for Detroit’s Big Three carmakers to turn themselves around. Although the Senate is looking for ideas for fuel efficiency from the domestic automakers before it loosens the purse strings, I didn’t make that suggestion to General Motors or Chrysler, and that will remain the same for Ford. Eco-friendly halo cars, like the Chevrolet Volt, are fine, but to energize more than just one brand, the big picture must be seen.
Ford is probably in the best position to give itself a boost. It has a very strong and separate European operation that is known for building lively cars. Ford was smart to quickly move at the first signs of real danger to make plans to sell its European cars in North America (why wasn’t it smart enough to bring them over before it was in a crisis?)
So Ford should be the closest to being back on the road to profits, but these three idea will get them there faster:
Make sure everyone knows cars are European
Ford, I know you’re going to have the temptation to try to disguise the European cars’ origins and sell them as purely American. My only advise to you is, “don’t, DO NOT, DON’T!”
It doesn’t matter if you build them in surplus space in North American factories, or if they come on a slow boat from England; patriotism is not going to sell these cars. The generation that bought your cars because “Quality is Job #1” back in the 80s are either now in Lincolns or lost forever. The twenty and thirty-year-olds you want to attract have grown up with the line of domestic cars so blurred by Hondas built in Indiana and Pontiacs built in Australia, that patriotism doesn’t sell cars.
What’s going to attract the current customer is if he/she knows that it was developed in a place where the roads are narrower and a lot twistier. Sprinkle these cars throughout all brands so that it can drive traffic into all showrooms.
Above all else make sure not to create a new brand for the European cars. The Merkur was a hard lesson learned.
Mazda has been home to some of Ford’s greatest recent successes, and that needs to continue. Mazda is the developer the Ranger pickup, which also meant it is the force behind one of Ford’s best sellers, the Explorer. Mazda was the main developer behind the four and six-cylinder engines in most Ford cars today. The low-end power of the Duratec engine developed under Mazda is a welcomed replacement to the Zetec.
Now that Ford has reduced its ownership from 33 percent to 13 percent, this leaves the door wide open for some other company or person to buy a larger stake in Mazda. Without full control of Mazda, Ford is running the risk of cutting off one of its biggest hitmakers.
Ask Yourself “Why?”
To all Ford Motor Company engineers: Ask yourself “Why?” before taking the time and energy to add a feature to a car. For example the Mercury Sable we had in our test fleet had two odd features.
Whenever the car was turned on or off, the electric seat would automatically move an inch or two to help accommodate the entrance of exit of the car. I found that the few extra inches did not give any real help, and was probably more annoying to have the seat still moving every time I wanted to make a quick exit from the car.
Also the Sable had electrically adjusted pedals, but no telescoping steering wheel. This meant that I had to adjust the seat and the pedals to get the right driving position. Most other cars in the class I could accomplish the same task just by moving the telescoping wheel towards me.
Technology can make a car better, but only when used in the right places. The engineers should ask themselves “Why am I doing this?” on many of its features, because time could probably be much better spent getting the details right on the car.
I know there are definite flaws in my ideas. If you have a better solution, it’s time to suggest it because the American car companies need our support.