We learned recently that Jim Hackett has been appointed the new president and CEO of Ford Motor Company, with a mandate from Chairman Bill Ford to “transform the company to meet tomorrow’s challenges.” There has been much speculation that this is coming from a shareholder demand for the company to step up its leadership on electric vehicles and other cutting edge technologies.
Robert Kennedy famously borrowed from George Bernard Shaw when he said that there are those who look at things the way they are and ask “why,” but that he dreamt of things that never were and asked, “why not?” Ford is certainly a company that, from time to time, has asked “why not?”
Henry Ford’s vision for the Model T transformed the automobile in 1908 from a plaything for the rich to an inexpensive mass-produced consumer good, available to everyone. In 1999, Bill Ford contracted with visionary architect William McDonough to reshape the venerable 85-year-old Rouge River facility into a showcase of sustainable industrial design, covering the roof with native grasses that retain rainwater, among other innovations. And in 2006, Ford bet the company on a risky plan to largely restructure its product line and in the process became the only U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy during the Great Recession.
Now, the company has an opportunity to ask “why not” and meet the challenge of electric drive head on by creating an electric version of its F-150 pick-up truck, the top-selling truck in the country. Pick-up trucks are a big niche of the auto market that is still void of electric options—for now. This prevents many people, for whom the pick-up is an essential tool, from even considering driving electric. A well-designed electric pick-up should beautifully showcase the power of electric drive. Whoever does it first will have the best shot at locking up this market segment. Mr. Ford and Mr. Hackett, this is your opportunity to secure Ford’s spot at the front of the pick-up market for years to come.