June 14, 2017

Ford’s management shake-up was one of the most brutal we have seen in recent times. It was also the closest you’ll get to a tacit admission from one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers that it was heading in totally the wrong direction.

The Blue Oval’s EV program simply isn’t up to scratch and Bill Ford basically came out and admitted as much. The Focus Electric is a compliance car and although the Dearborn marque periodically releases pictures of Ford Fusions equipped with LiDAR, it doesn’t have anything concrete to show us.

Ford Fusion equipped with self driving tech Engadget

The competition is leaving Ford behind

We keep hearing about a Crossover Utility Vehicle that will land in 2020, but VW has released renders of the ID concept, Mercedes-Benz is giving passenger rides in its EQ SUV prototype and you can buy a Chevy Bolt. There’s no getting round the fact that Ford is seriously off the pace and the gap keeps growing.

There’s a real danger that Ford is about to be swamped by the likes of GM, Tesla and VW now that the major manufacturers have set their sights on the mainstream sector. Ford knows that, too, and decided on this dramatic act in a bid to save the company tumbling out of the top 10 in the years ahead.

Could Ford have been a cautionary tale?

We hear tales from analysts that discuss unspecified major manufacturers falling victim to one of the most disruptive influences in the automotive sector since the introduction of mass manufacturing. Ford was the pioneer in that particular revolution, but don’t think for one moment that it is too big to fail. If it gets left behind in the EV race, then Ford could well become a cautionary tale.

That must have been the driving force for this management cull. This was a knight of the long knives, where pretty much every major executive on the board found themselves on the scrapheap or reassigned. This doesn’t really happen that often.

The last major shake-up came at VW, but that was a reactionary step to the Dieselgate emissions scandal that threatened to drag the company down. Leading executives had blood on their hands and they had to fall on their swords in a public display to keep the regulators and the general public satisfied.

Internal wars at Ford

Ford really isn’t like that. This is a company that is the world’s sixth biggest manufacturer, with no major scandals. But, clearly, behind the scenes there was a war going on and that has now erupted into a massive management overhaul.

Simply put, Ford’s EV and autonomous driving plans weren’t moving fast enough and some seriously high-profile executives paid a heavy price.

Fields put out to pasture

CEO Mark Fields is the biggest casualty and now leading lights at Ford are leaking the information that he was too slow to respond to falling gas prices that sparked demand for luxury SUVs, rather than frugal compact cars.

We don’t really buy that. That ship has sailed, it did not make or break the company and it never would. The market balances out, fuel prices can increase and this is not the biggest deal facing the car industry right now.

Had Fields led some meaningful charge in the electric vehicle world, then this would probably have paled into insignificance as Ford positioned itself for the next generation of cars. He wouldn’t just have been forgiven for missing the short-term opportunity, he would have won the long-game. That simply didn’t happen.

Jim Hackett Ford

New CEO is a turnaround specialist

But there are even clearer signs that all is not well with Ford. The man charged with replacing Fields, Jim Hackett, is a turnaround and transformation specialist. His appointment might be a relatively short-term thing for a CEO. It’s another signal that Ford doesn’t just want to tweak the business. It’s looking for a revolution.

That has already begun, as Hackett has appointed a number of lieutenants to deal with the day to day running of separate parts of the business and actually give him less decisions to make.

“It’s a great opportunity to actually shrink my team, but it isn’t about me being disconnected. It’s actually pushing down some of the responsibility. I’m working on shaping that to be a lot smaller group of people.”

Big name engineers in place

Jim Farley will oversee the work of some big-name engineers that include Sherif Marakby, who returns to Ford after a stint at Uber as its Vice President. Marakby will take over the self-driving and electric vehicle program. So, we should finally see some progress.

Hau Thai-Tang, who was largely responsible for the 2005 Mustang, has taken on a product development role, while Raj Nair has taken over Ford’s North American operations. Steven Armstrong has been appointed as head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, while Peter Fleet has taken control of the Asia Pacific Region after Dave Schoch’s retirement.

As with any cull, there were a few roles left to be filled. Ken Washington, Ford’s Research and Advanced Engineering chief and a former VP of Space Technology at Lockheed Martin, is now the Chief Technology Officer.

Bradley Gayton, Ford Groups’s VP and General Counsel, has become the Chief Administrative Officer and will report directly to the CEO.

So, what happens now?

Now these people are in place, Ford will want to see some pretty big results in pretty short order. We expect to see a complete step-change from the Blue Oval and we think that electric and autonomous cars will suddenly be front and center of everything they do.

It has to be that way, it really does. You can’t move people around like this and then let them settle back into the status quo. So, we’re hoping for big things from this team. We’re expecting affordable, mass produced electric cars with solid ranges and serious tech.

We want to see the future of ride failing schemes unfold before our eyes and, most importantly, we want to see it now. We think it’s coming, and we might look back on this knight of the long knives as the night that saved the future of Ford.

It will certainly make the electric vehicle world more interesting, too!



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