NAIAS 2018: Ford Conjures Past, Present and Future Glories


Ford NAIAS Bullitt

Our latest report from the 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit:

Regaining its bearings under new CEO Jim Hackett, Ford threw the full weight of its resources at the North American International Auto Show this year, making news from the past, present and future for a throng of automotive journalists during its press day. Ford reached back 50 years to pull one of its brand hallmarks—the car from the Steve McQueen racing movie Bullitt—out of obscurity.

It also made a big splash by re-introducing the Ranger nameplate on an all-new mid-size pickup truck; and threw down a gauntlet to competitors over the future of electrified vehicles by indicating that it plans to double its investments in EVs over the next several years.

“Ford is uniquely positioned to shape” the future, argued Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman, kicking off the brand’s NAIAS press event after replacing CEO Mark Fields with ex-Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett since NAIAS 2017 a year ago.

“We’re the original disruptor,” he said, referring to great-grandfather’s Henry Ford’s invention of the auto industry. “Our heritage and our future are intertwined. Ford was founded on the idea that freedom of movement is fundamental to human progress [and we] will stay absolutely focused on people.”

Hackett spoke too, about the theme of “smart cities” that he elucidated in a keynote last week at CES 2018, where Ford launched a cloud-based platform for mobility services and announced a collaboration with Qualcomm on C-V2X.

Jim Farley, president of global markets, said that Ford will spend $11 billion to expand its electric vehicle program by 2022, up from the $4.5 billion that Ford said in late 2015 it would invest through the end of the decade. The automaker’s expanded electrified portfolio will include 16 full battery electric vehicles as part of 40 electrified vehicles globally.

2019 Ford Ranger

Ford’s unveiling of the 2019 Ranger was widely anticipated as it brings back the nameplate in the form of a vehicle with a frame made of high-strength steel with features including best-in-class torque, available LED lighting, a blind spot information system for pulling a trailer, onboard Wi-Fi for up to 10 mobile devices, a new terrain-management system as well as Trail Control “that’s like cruise control for off-road driving,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s North America president.

“We’re ready to help Ford take our rightful place in the mid-size truck segment” with Ranger, Nair said. “Others have dabbled in this segment,” he said, implying a jab at the introduction by GM a couple of years ago of its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon to re-popularize mid-size trucks. “But we’re jumping back in from a different vantage point, one of dominating American trucks since 1977.”

He called Ranger a “world-class truck with great maneuverability and an ideal blend of capability and fuel economy. The time is right to bring it here, designed and engineered specifically for North American customers.”

The new U.S. Ranger is related to a model that has been the best-selling mid-size pickup in Europe, South Africa and New Zealand since 2011, Nair said.

Also on the agenda: the all-new Mustang Shelby® GT500 (arriving next year) will be the pinnacle of Mustang performance, highlighting the innovation, ingenuity and passion of Ford Performance. With more than 700 horsepower projected, the supercharged V8 Mustang Shelby GT500 will be the most powerful street-legal production Ford ever, and twice as powerful as the original 1967 Mustang performance model.

But Ford led with the news that it plans to introduce a 50th-anniversary version of the Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in the iconic car movie Bullitt. In fact, Ford actually presented the original 1968 Ford Mustang driven by McQueen in the movie, rediscovered after being hidden for more than four decades by its rightful owner, the son of an avid car collector.

McQueen’s granddaughter, Molly McQueen, hosted the Bullitt segment of the Ford press conference and starred in a video about it. She’d never met her late grandfather, but she certainly understood his, and its, legacy.