The Autoweek Dispatch: We Chat with Ford’s Jim Farley
A week after Ford announced Jim Farley as the next CEO we got a hold of him to get his thoughts on the appointment and where the future lies. Gotta say, the guy is definitely excited about the opportunity. Here’s what’s happening in the car world:
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“For Volkswagen, the course towards the future has been set. On the basis of the Transform 2025+ strategy, the brand is developing into one of the leading providers of carbon-neutral mobility and is on the way to becoming a digital technology company.”
—Ralf Brandstätter, Volkswagen brand CEO, explaining VW’s journey from the diesel crisis to what he calls “zero-emission mobility,” with several EV models about to launch in Europe and the U.S. Our first model, the Chattanooga, Tennessee-built ID.4, is expected later this year.
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
The car world has had a week to digest the news that Jim Farley is Ford’s CEO beginning Oct. 2. It’s been widely reported he vintage-races here and in Europe, that the family’s ’55 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT Coupé was on the Pebble Beach lawn last year and that he spends his free time at concours and car shows. It’s also been widely reported that with the company stock price and profit dropping, he has big challenges ahead. Pundits have weighed in with plenty of advice in the last seven days, including “take the company private,” “make sure the Mach-E and Bronco launches go right” and “keep maneuvering the company through COVID.”
We figured a good way to find out what needs to be done is to ask Farley himself, so we reached out to him to get his thoughts.
“I can’t wait to launch these products,” Farley told Autoweek a few days after the CEO announcement. “Bronco and Mach-E couldn’t be more different, but they’re cool in their own way. We have more to come, actually. We’ve been so busy the last three years getting these to market and we couldn’t talk about it, and that was very difficult.
“Everyone wanted to talk about us getting out of sedans, like Focus,” he told us. “And you can imagine what I was thinking, ‘Do you want a Bronco Sport or do you want a Focus?’”
Farley told Autoweek that the Mach-E and Bronco launches are critical in part because they are opportunities for new customers and he told us that growing Ford is “most important. There are a lot of new opportunities to grow that people wouldn’t think of in a traditional OEM.
“I’ve gotten to see the world of technology and how ambitious they are toward our business. That intersection between technology and car making is what I’m really excited about—using that connection to really spin up new businesses that we’re not in today and using or take our current businesses and supercharge them.
“If I was a reporter I’d be spending all my time at Rivian. Not for the Rivian side but for that Amazon van,” Farley told us. Rivian, in which Ford has a $500,000,000 investment, eventually plans on delivering 100,000 electric delivery vans to Amazon (it, too, has an enormous stake in Rivian). The deal is the largest single EV order yet.
“Everyone always talked about the Apple car, now we have a well-funded technology company that’s going to be making automobiles in Indiana in very high volumes in the most profitable segment of our industry in the U.S.
“They will not use dealers,” Farley continued. “They will go to a different model. The charging structure that Elon (Musk) built will not work for them. They need to charge in metro markets where those vans will be delivering packages.
“For me, the connected car, software, charging infrastructure, on-board technology—all of that is going to result in a very different business and a very different customer experience, especially on the commercial side, and for Ford that commercial side is critical.”
In addition to growing the commercial side Farley also told us he wants Fords to become more affordable. “As critical as the commercial side is our ambition to bring more affordable vehicles to North America. We’re good at our market share above $35,000, we have a tremendous opportunity to offer more affordable vehicles. With the Mahindra relationship (Ford and Mahindra signed a joint-venture agreement in 2019) we have a real chance at that.”
Farley also told us the company is getting through COVID-19 well. “Our plants are at about 97% production,” he said, pointing out that Ford has had a bit of an issue with absenteeism both in the plants and the supply base. “We’ve been working through a lot of issues over the last two months or so, but we’re getting back up to speed.”
Last week we said having Farley in charge of Ford can “only be a good thing” for us car enthusiasts. “I could not be more excited,” Bruce Meyer told Autoweek. Meyer, the alpha male of car collectors who has a hand in making just about every fun car event on the West Coast happen, knows everyone.
“I’m on the board of the Henry Ford Museum with Bill Ford and Edsel and I sent an enthusiastic congratulations to Bill, and he wrote back how excited he was,” Meyer told us. “So I think everybody at Ford has to be thrilled about having a real car guy at the helm. Farley is that real car guy, and he bleeds Ford blue. Jim and I were friends when he was at Toyota. He called me when he had the opportunity of leaving Toyota and, by the way, he was in line for a big job at Toyota. And he literally left that huge opportunity to go to where his heart is. And that’s at Ford Motor Co. So I always admired him for that leap of faith and love. If there’s anybody that can make it right there, it’s him.
“He’s not afraid to make bold moves. And even though he is an enthusiast and probably, if it were up to him, they’d all be performance cars and race cars, he’s smart enough to know what sells and how to trim the line down and how to bring it down to the bottom line. And that’s what Ford needs. It’s not a job to Jim, it’s a passion.”
After our chat with Farley he was off to Laguna Seca to race his Cobra. “I told Bill (Ford) I’d love to serve the company in this new position, but I have to be able to race. It’s my yoga.”
CAR NEWS AND NOTES
The Moab Easter Jeep Safari being canceled this year didn’t stop Jeep from building on last year’s Jeep Wayout concept and turning it into the overland-ready Jeep Gladiator Farout. The Gladiator Farout starts with FCA’s 3.0-liter diesel V6 (260 hp and 442 lb-ft). It features a rooftop tent measuring 16 feet long and 7.5 feet tall, is able to sleep four and “retract in seconds.” The wood-lined interior has soft ambient lighting, a refrigerator and stove and built-in seats and table space, and of course there are the usual tow hooks, 2-inch lift kit, 37-inch mud terrain tires and many more off-road goodies you’d expect. Memo to Jeep: Build it!
Rumor has it Porsche is going to soon announce a face-lifted Panamera with the Turbo said to have around 620 hp, up 79 on today’s model. Those rumors align nicely with Porsche’s recently revealed Nurburgring “executive cars” record, 7:29.81 minutes, more than 13 seconds faster than the outgoing Panamera.
Remember to check out Quick Spin, our new podcast series. Quick Spin brings you into the car with us as we deliver honest reviews of all the hot new rides with you in the passenger seat. Then we hop into the studio to elaborate on the experiences. We drive everything from pedestrian commuters to world-beating supercars. This week’s ride is the 2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 S coupe. Check it out!
The spectator-less 104th Indianapolis 500 at least has a full field for the Aug. 23 green flag. There are eight previous winners in the 33-car field, including three-time winner Helio Castronves and single winners Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud (2019). Castroneves of course is making what he expects to be his final start for Team Penske. Earlier this month there was concern that there wouldn’t be full field due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A full field means two-time F1 champ Fernando Alonso has a guaranteed starting spot. He missed the field last year and says this is his last chance at racing’s Triple Crown, for awhile anyway. Alonso, who crashed in practice but didn’t damage the car too badly, is trying to add the 500 to his previous 24 Hours of Le Mans and Monaco Grand Prix wins.
WHAT WE’RE DRIVING
Jake Lingeman got to drive Chevrolet's new Suburban (lucky!), now with independent rear suspension and a diesel added to the lineup. Lingeman reports the new truck is an inch or so longer than the outgoing car, has a luxury car interior and is smooth and quiet going about its business.
MOSTLY ODDS, SOME ENDS
Do you miss Pebble Beach? Do you miss seeing all the beautiful cars, the beautiful people, the beautiful scenery? Don’t let the pandemic get you down, man. You can see everything online still. Just go to Petersen.org and start clicking links. Auctions, presentations, virtual car shows and even events that aren’t normally at Monterey—they're all here! There are even events normally reserved for the press that are now open to you, the average attendee, too. It might be a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.
On this episode of the Autoweek Podcast, No. 122, Wes Raynal talks with Wesley Wren about Hyundai’s latest addition to its portfolio: the Ioniq sub-brand, dedicated exclusively to electrification. The pair also discusses Cadillac's latest EV, the Lyriq. After a rousing discussion about future products, Matt Weaver and Mike Pryson join the show to talk about the upcoming Indianapolis 500. While the month of May has shrunk to a few days in August, The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is still underway, though without fans. The guys also talk about Max Verstappen winning the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone. Tune in here, on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever podcasts are played.
As always we’re on the case this weekend, monitoring and reporting on automakers’ and sanctioning bodies’ latest happenings. We’ll continually update the site of course—you’ll know what’s happening when we do. Check back often!
Thanks for reading Autoweek and please stay safe.