Ford is one of the best-known and most enduring brands in the global automotive business, and that fact is one of the automaker’s biggest attributes as it accelerates into a future in which the industry faces more uncertainties than ever before.
The No. 2-selling US-based auto brand was a pioneer in automated driving features and in fielding cars that were at least partly electrified. But competitors caught up with Ford, and many accelerated past the company.
So this year, beginning with a change in leadership at the top, Ford is undergoing a transformation as the company embraces smart mobility with the goal of leapfrogging the pack into the future shape of the auto industry.
New CEO Jim Hackett has already transformed one industry as CEO of office furniture innovator Steelcase. Not long after he had joined Ford as head of its smart mobility unit, Executive Chairman William Ford Jr. tapped Hackett in May to succeed CEO Mark Fields with a mandate to push the company toward self-driven automobiles.
Hackett’s three priorities are “sharpening operational execution, modernizing Ford’s present business, and transforming the company to meet tomorrow’s challenges,” he said in May.
And certainly Ford faces challenges. US new car sales have leveled off, posing problems across the industry. Fortunately, Ford makes the best-selling vehicle in the US every year, the F-150 pickup truck series, which also is among the industry’s most profitable.
Ford is bringing its crucial lineup of SUVs—the segment that American car buyers desire—up to the state of the art.
Under Fields, Ford started to revive its lagging Lincoln luxury brand, exemplified by the introduction of a new version of the full-size Continental sedan last year and by the launch this year of a new form of the large Navigator SUV.
To its credit, Ford has demonstrated auto tech leadership, including its Sync infotainment system and its early embrace of environmentally-friendly materials for car interiors, for instance. The company also had made more and more investments in automated-driving systems and alternate forms of mobility for the new era, even including electric bicycles.
But at the press conference announcing Hackett’s appointment, Ford himself explained: “The clock speed of our competitors requires us to make decisions at a faster pace. If we’re going to win in this new world, we need to break down the hierarchy, and we have to empower the team. We have to move fast, and we have to trust our people to move fast.”
One promising way that Ford is catapulting into the automated-driving future is by experimenting with Domino’s in using self-driven Fusion Hybrid vehicles—of course, with a Ford engineer on board—to deliver pizzas in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Also top of mind: sustainability, as outlined in its latest report: