We Will Be Good. We Promise.
By Jason Lu
Sales are down, massive losses have been reported, and auto workers are clinging onto their jobs with low morale, not knowing whether their positions may be the next to hit the chopping block. It is not news that the American auto market is in a state of ill health. Things have to be pretty grim for a car company when it has to convince its own employees that their product can keep up with competition.
Ford Motor Company has been going through a financial roller coaster ride as it struggles with a turnaround during one of the toughest periods of its century-long existence. After a series of layoffs and salary cuts, some employees are not exactly confident about their future. Even Richard Gresens, the designer of the Ford Flex, was given cardboard boxes and shown the way out. “There’s obviously some worry,” says Sejal Shreffler, a product creation worker.
To boost morale, Ford invited 4000 workers to leave their desks behind in Dearborn and head off to the track for a little demonstration. Displayed for employees were several vehicles that Ford hopes will rescue the company from its woes. To begin their tour, Ford split their employees into groups and ushered them into tents, where engineers briefed them on features that will set Ford vehicles apart from its rivals.
According to the engineers, brand identity will be increased as future Ford vehicles gain sportier driving dynamics along with firmer but comfortable seats. Ford realizes that interiors are equally as important as the exterior, so they have promised high quality interiors with switches that will feel much more solid. Also an additional touch is that all Ford vehicles will receive dark-blue lighting for their instruments, although I don’t see how significant that would be in terms of brand identity. The Malibu has blue lighting, so does the Sienna, and even my Motorola Razr does. It is, however, nice to see that Ford engineers are actually paying close attention to small details that they once ignored in the past.
After the briefing, workers were given the chance to drive some products that are not yet available to U.S. consumers, including the 2010 Mustang and the Mondeo. Finally, we heard something from a Ford employee that the automotive world has been saying for years: “It certainly seems like if we could get some of these vehicles over here, we’d be headed in a better direction,” says Shreffer as he sits in the Mondeo. Bill Morris, another company employee, was thrilled to drive these products. After taking a Lincoln MKS equipped with a V6 Ecoboost, Ford’s direct-injected turbo V6, he said “I could get in trouble with this.”
Also on the lot was a hydrogen-powered Ford Focus. Now, we know Ford is emphasizing quality and we know Ford products are pretty reliable, so we are going to trust the Blue Oval that if future hydrogen powered Foci make it to production, they will not become recall monsters and mini hydrogen bombs as they leave the dealer?
Ford has come a long way in just the past few months. Market conditions have changed dramatically and so have Ford’s survival plans. Fortunately, the Blue Oval has a terrific lineup of vehicles waiting to see the light of day in America, and it finally looks like Ford is moving in the right direction. Kudos go to Ford, even if they are just a bit late. There is one piece of advice that Ford should keep in mind though. When you are trying to boost the confidence of your employees during a period of financial distress, it is great to show them some plans and products that may reassure them of progress. But, what does it tell them about your financial problems when your engineers have to present their work in tents?
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