Automotive News chose Bill Ford as its 2020 pick for “Industry Leader of the Year” and pointed out that he was a “unifying force in the fight of a lifetime.” Ford, who is the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, was credited for smoothing talks with two other rivals during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic that is still spreading across the US.
Automotive News pointed out that these talks are just one of the reasons Ford was chosen as its industry leader for 2020, though. Citing his background, being a part of a famous automotive family with a deep Rolodex, having good relationships with government and industry leaders, Ford, 63, has lived through six major crises.
The unifying calls noted above were to GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chairman John Elkann, and UAW President Rory Gamble. Ford also spoke with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. All parties agreed to come together for a conference call on how to handle the crisis.
In an interview last month, Ford spoke about the fact that many had questions and no one had the answers. “You just realize you’re never dealing with perfect information, so the more communication you have, the better.” He continued, “Everybody had questions and nobody had answers. I felt in that environment it was important we come to some common understanding so that particularly the UAW wasn’t hearing one thing from Ford, one thing from GM, and one thing from Fiat Chrysler. I felt I was in a good position to help.”
“When you’re trying to pull three companies together, you have to be careful what you even talk about because you can step on land mines without realizing it,” Ford explained. “But I’ve been through that so many times I felt I was pretty well prepared to help lead those discussions. GM and FCA weren’t exactly on the same page on a lot of items. And so, I felt I was kind of Switzerland and could help pull it together.”
Ford’s part in coordinating the top Detroit automakers’ response to the coronavirus is possibly his greatest accomplishment this year, Automotive News reported. This year has been a bit hard for everyone, and some of the stresses Ford had to handle included appointing a new CEO, launching new products, and breaking away from the Trump Administration over policy, as well as oversee his own company’s part in manufacturing medical equipment to fight the virus.
Ford led weekly town halls over video. These gatherings became a way for workers to get to know their executive chairman in a new way, the article noted. Ford spoke about how he loved doing these virtual meetings but didn’t love the circumstances that started them. “I love doing that, although I don’t love the circumstances that spawned that,” he said. “I get so energized when I’m with our people. To me, the weekly town halls were a highlight during a really tough period.”
He also spoke about “Project Apollo,” which was the internal name for Ford’s manufacturing of masks, gowns, ventilators, and respirators. “I remember one person saying to me he had always regretted he hadn’t served in the military and this was his opportunity to give back,” Ford said. “There was another lady whose mom was a Rosie the Riveter, and this was her way to give back. Another lady was telling me her daughter was a front-line nurse and she felt by doing this she was just basically trying to keep up with her daughter in terms of doing her part. It was really heartwarming.”
Ford Took A Stand In Support Of Stricter Emissions
Ford also stood up to the Trump administration to stand with California for stricter emissions regulations, which is not a move some other big names in the industry chose. The article touched upon Ford’s conversations with Donald Trump, but Ford noted that Trump’s visit was just another way for him to show his disapproval of Ford’s stance on emissions.
“He wasn’t very happy,” Ford shared. “Yes, he did [mention it]. I explained to him that it’s the right business decision and that frankly if we have to engineer things twice — Product A for certain states, Product B for the rest of the states — it’s not a great position to be in. We want to do it once, we want to do it well, and if we do it the way we’re proposing, it will satisfy all 50 states. He disagrees, and that’s fine.”
Mustang Mach-E Was The Best Prototype Ford Had Ever Driven
One of the things Ford spoke of in the article was the importance of doing the right thing ethically despite the political implications. “I’ve always believed we should be looking long term,” he said, “I feel like I’m working for my children and grandchildren. Because of that, you have to ask yourself, what kind of world are they going to come into and inherit?”
One of the vehicles that will help Ford meet California’s stricter standards is the Mustang Mach-E, which he considered to be an award winner in Ford history right out of the gates — or before getting out of the gates. “I thought the prototype of the Mach-E was the best prototype I’ve ever driven in my entire career.”
At first, I thought that honoring someone who is so tied into legacy auto as the industry leader of the year was a bit absurd, but after reading the article, I think Ford is a good choice. Ford does have an EV coming out and the company has put as much muscle as it could behind it, and Bill Ford’s stance on emissions is in alignment with my own — we need to do better. And the fact that he stood up to Trump despite the political implications shows just how important stricter emissions are.
As a fan of Elon Musk and someone who thinks that Elon would be a great choice as well, I think that sometimes we have to encourage those who are looking in the right direction. Ford still has millions of ICE vehicles on the road and is still producing them. However, unlike some automakers, Ford hasn’t given up on EVs and is including them in its product lineup — leading with one, actually. That does count for something.
I sincerely hope that the Mach-E’s sales will be like those of the Porsche Taycan — enough to encourage Ford to keep making EVs and to show Ford that EVs are what’s important now.
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