2020 Auto News Auto Sales USA automobiles

Jim Farley on the Record

The car world has had more than a week to digest the news that Jim Farley will become Ford’s CEO beginning Oct. 2. We’ve seen him driving his Cobra, Lola and GT40 at vintage-races here and in Europe, and everybody saw his family’s 1955 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT Coupé on the lawn at Pebble Beach last year. He spends as much free time as possible at concours and car shows. It’s also been widely reported that the company stock price and profit have been dropping for basically three years in a row, so he has big challenges ahead. Pundits have weighed in with plenty of advice in the last several days, as they will, 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. He still answers his own phone.

“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 ways. 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. He said 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 it for taking our current businesses and supercharging them.”

He cited electric truck-maker Rivian.

“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 half-billion-dollar 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 told us he wants Fords to become more affordable. “As critical as the commercial side is, our ambition is 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, who has been credited with leading Ford through the unprecedented manufacturing shutdown and restart caused by COVID-19 , also told us the company is getting through the pandemic as well as can be expected. “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 and there certainly is no shortage of support from that camp.

“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.”

“He’s just a great old hot-rodder,” original hot rod hero Alex Xydias told Autoweek. So-Cal Speed Shop founder Xydias met Farley years ago at the Autoweek dinner at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. “From the way Edsel (Ford II) was talking about Farley at the dinner you could tell he was on his way up the chain.

“He’s a helluva businessman, no doubt,” he told us.

“If I had to count on one hand the brightest people I’ve ever worked with, those who just were really unique people who knew what was going on, that would be Jim Lentz and Jim Farley,” former Lexus boss Bryan Bergsteinsson told Autoweek. “Different people but really bright people. Farley was always looking for a new challenge. Never, never was satisfied, didn’t want to do the same thing over and over again,” he told us. “The best and brightest people reframe their jobs all the time.”

“It’s not a job to Jim,” Meyer added, “it’s a passion.”

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