Ford’s PR Problem

Mark Fields lost his job running Ford this week. Sadly, it had nothing to do with how he ran the company.

It had everything to do with the PR Ford got, or didn’t get when it came to autonomous cars and other tech stories. Matthew DeBord wrote a brilliant explanation of what happened, though the New York Times inadvertently described it in a sentence:

“Mr. Fields, a 28-year veteran of Ford, was a victim of rapidly evolving expectations for carmakers that for decades had been judged on how many vehicles they could manufacture and sell at a profit.”

Savor that sentence for a moment…Ford used to be valued by how much it made making cars and trucks. It also survived the financial crash last decade, but it turns out that now what matters is the company’s ability to convince Wall Street of its determination “to be a leader in a new era of personal mobility” (also from the Times).

Welcome to business management by PR.

I am fascinated how technology has become the Sword of Damocles threatening the car industry. Although Ford, GM, and the other global auto brands are inherently technology companies, they’ve been outmaneuvered by companies that know nothing about transportation, safety, experience, or any other remotely human-related quality of moving people from one spot to the next.

Vehicles are already “smart” and have been for years; the only unanswered question is when will they get really smart, yet the tech companies outside of the auto industry have succeeded in making this potential innovation the defining milestone, or existential threat, for Ford, et al.

Car makers, including Ford, have run to Silicon Valley to open research centers, bought or partnered with tech companies, literally buying into the promise that they, too, are focused on the one issue that comprises the only issue non-car maker tech companies can claim.

Why isn’t automation a component of vehicle evolution, instead of its purported end?

Read the entire essay at Linkedin