It's been a rough week. And for someone who is new to the auto industry, this is truly a test.
I don't usually talk directly about my work unless it's something truly worth sharing. As such, I'd like you to indulge me a little here, because there's some important information that I would like to share.
Throughout the past week, I've been engaging directly with people on Twitter and where possible on blog posts. Because I was at the L.A. Auto Show, my exposure to all of the conversation wasn't as broad as it might have been.
And at Ford, our social media efforts are just in their nascency. My colleagues at GM have a pretty strong team in place, while I'm just one guy doing what I can. Since Ford doesn't yet have a robust public platform in the social media space, it's largely been a matter of individual engagement. And for much of the week, it's been like fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun.
So I'm resorting to my blog to share what I know and what my own perspective is, and hopefully, with your cooperation, to help the ailing U.S. auto industry in the process. While I'm supportive of the whole industry, my views will naturally be skewed to Ford, because it's the topic I'm most familiar with and loyal to. So, let's begin at the beginning.
When I interviewed with Ford, it was at an exciting time: Ford has just announced a first-quarter profit, its first in a long time, on the way to CEO Alan Mulally's plan to make the company profitable by 2009. One of the reasons I took the job was because of the innovation and exciting product developments that I discovered as part of the hiring process. [Aside: It was enough to make me move from Boston to Detroit - and believe me, I had a healthy dose of East Coast snobbery that didn't think to highly of Detroit. I obviously learned enough to overcome that.]
But now, we stand in a much different place, after gas prices spiked, the commodity markets doubled, the housing crunch hit, and the credit markets dried up. All of those negatively impacted the auto industry and they happened in less than one fiscal quarter. It was a rapid and stunning downturn that no one could have predicted.
Could I ever have guessed that the industry and the economy would have stalled? Hardly. Yet I remain incredibly optimistic about Ford's future and commitment to making great cars that people want and value.
The problem is, our story hasn't had the chance to be fully (and fairly) told yet. We're getting beaten down daily by the media, Congress, and everywhere I turn online. We're not desperate for cash, nor are we trying to scare the public with scenarios of doom & gloom. Ours is a story of transformation that's already underway that means we're poised for success.
My goal here is not to get into a semantic discussion about how a Chapter 11 filing might look (or the possibility of a Chapter 7 liquidation), or to debate supply and demand economics; nor is it to pick apart any public relations gaffes that may have occurred; nor is it to point fingers and try to lay the blame squarely at any one of the myriad players in this tragic drama.
My hope is that you'll read on and take in some of the information I'm going to share. In the end, you'll have to make up your own mind. But I'm asking you to do it in an informed way, rather than making an emotionally-charged knee-jerk reaction to what's going on in Detroit and Washington.
And in addition to reading, watching and listening to the content I'm sharing, I sincerely ask you to do this:
Ford | Lincoln | Mercury dealership and actually try out one of our latest vehicles and decide for yourself. Drive One.
Advances at Ford
Let me share with you a few facts about Ford which you may not be aware of. Many of them are centered around our Drive One campaign: Drive Safe. Drive Green. Drive Quality. Drive Smart. And we're making progress in every area.
- Ford's CEO, Alan Mulally is just 2 years on the job. He was recruited from Boeing and is highly respected (and wholly likable). It is his vision for ONE Ford - a truly global company - that is driving much of the transformation that is currently under way.
- Ford's vehicle mix was about 70% trucks & SUVs (largely because we were giving people exactly what they demanded in times of cheap gas); we have restructured to produce 60% cars & crossovers.
- We're changing over some of our truck & SUV manufacturing facilities to become car plants, with the flexible manufacturing capability; that is, if we need to change from car to truck or back again, it can be done in a matter of hours rather than a matter of months.
- We're using our successful European & South American manufacturing models to bring the more of those outstanding small cars to the United States.
- We're committed to being best-in-class or among the best-in-class in fuel economy in every vehicle we produce.
- We've doubled the number of hybrids we offer - these include the Ford Escape Hybrid, the most fuel-efficient SUV in the world; and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which will beat the Toyota Camry hybrid by at least 6 mpg.
- We're launching the Eco-Boost engine, which will scale across most of our fleet, increasing fuel economy by up to 20% and reducing CO2 emissions by up to 15%
- None of Ford's vehicles require premium gasoline.
- We're actively testing plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), battery-powered electric vehicles (BEV), hydrogen, compressed natural gas, and more. We won't release new products until we know that we have the capacity to produce them in a way that people can afford them.
- We're environmentally friendly in many, many aspects of our business. It not only includes the vehicles we make, but the before and after effects as well. For example:
- We're using soy in creating seat cushions
- Replacing petroleum-based manufactured parts with plant-based polyol in (thus reducing our carbon footprint
- Creating materials that more easily biodegrade at the end of the car's life
- The lights shut off at the World Headquarters at 6:30 and I have to dial a code on the phone if I want more power, and tell the system how many more minutes I need
- I use Ford pencils made from recycled denim
- Our Rouge factory has the largest green roof in the world
- Our Dagenham, UK facilities are powered by wind turbines
- Facilities in Spain have solar panels
- Overall, take a look at the company's Blueprint for Sustainability, available both as a microsite as well as a downloadable PDF. Take the time to peruse what's there. You may be surprised.
- Our SYNC technology integrating most phones and mp3 players (including iPods and the iPhone) into the sound system of the car.
- The next generation of SYNC with Sirius Travel link gets you real-time updates on gas prices, weather, sports scores, traffic and more.
- SYNC's new 911 assist will call for help automatically in the event of a crash, using your cellphone and connecting you directly to emergency personnel
- Ford is now equal to Toyota & Honda in initial quality, according to both J.D. Powers & Associates and Consumer Reports
- Ford's vehicles have more 5-star safety ratings than any other automaker. Ever.
- The new Ford MyKey system will create opportunities for parents to communicate with their teenage drivers about safe driving skills.
- Developments such as the Blind Spot Information System, Collision Warning with Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning and Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Sensing System will give drivers more warning when they need to take evasive action in order to avoid an accident.
For more about the current developments at Ford, check out Ford Digital Snippets and subscribe via RSS and follow @FordDriveOne on Twitter.
Aside from the remarkable developments being made daily at Ford, there's another aspect to this that concerns me. Throughout all of this turmoil, I think we're forgetting that there have been sacrifices made on all sides:
- The UAW - much vilified in many circles - has made concessions and continues to be willing to work with management on progress. This is no longer a "we vs. them" mentality, from what I've seen.
- In early 2008, Ford made a 15% cut to its workforce (white collar and blue collar) and another 10% will be cut in January 2009.
- No one - no one - will receive bonuses in 2008, nor will they receive raises in 2009
- Ford's Chairman, Bill Ford, has not taken a salary since 2005, and he has pledged not to take one until the company returns to profitability.
- UPDATED: Furthermore, Bill Ford has not received any dividends since the company stopped giving them; and any bonuses he received he donated to charity - specifically Ford scholarships for college-bound high school graduates.
Personally, I have seen and met most, if not all, of the executive team at Ford, and I can strongly vouch for them being hardworking, decent people who honestly want the best for the company, our customers, and every employee. I'm a pretty good judge of character, and I wouldn't be so loyal to Ford if I didn't completely believe in this team and the leadership.
Finally, I'd like to leave you with a thought about America being there for the U.S. auto industry. Let's not forget that in tougher times, the auto industry has always been there for the country. In World War II, factories were converted into airplane and ship manufacturing facilities, forgoing automotive manufacturing. Just after September 11, all of the auto companies offered 0% financing to the American public, to get us through the difficult economic times.
What is America doing for the auto industry today?
What You Can Do to Help
Here are a few suggestions I've got where we might be able to band together. If you have others, please leave a comment below.
1. Share what you discover
I've established a Delicious page for the U.S. Auto Industry; if you see any articles, videos, audio files or anything related to the support or the industry, please tag it "for:US_Auto_Industry" in your Delicious account and I'll add it to the list.
Oh, and perhaps you'd care to Digg/Stumble/etc. this post.
2. Get active
My colleagues at GM commissioned the Facebook cause Support the U.S. Economy by Supporting the U.S. Auto Industry. If you add this cause to your Facebook profile, you can invite others to join as well. There are already 6,500 members, but there should be more.
3. Educate yourself
As I noted above, there's a stunning lack of knowledge or understanding about the complexities of the auto industry and what affects it. I don't profess to be completely aware of all of it myself. But if you'd like to read a few articles that dispel some of the myths, you can start with these:
- Six Myths About the Detroit 3
- NY Times Op-Ed: 'Drop Dead' Is Not an Option
- Edmunds: Congress: Vote Yes on Automaker Loans
- Analysis of Romney's NY Times Op-Ed piece (BusinessWeek)
- Taking on NY Times' Tom Friedman's Indictment of Detroit (BusinessWeek)
There are more available on the US Auto Industry Delicious page.
4. Drive One.
As I said before, the best way to understand what I'm talking about here is to physically try one of our products. If you haven't been in one recently, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Go to our Drive One site and check out the webisodes there. Share them. Embed them. Tell people how Ford is already innovating.
5. Watch and share this video
This is an amazing example of a real-life Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Everyone should see this.
Below is a transcript of the Rep. McCotter's opening remarks. You may also download it directly here.
Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Business Trade and Commerce economy automotive
Thank you for your time in reading this rather lengthy post. It's obviously something I'm passionate about. I hope you can do your part.
Photo credit: detroitderek