Ford Changed Leaders, Looking for a Lift. It’s Still Looking.

Ford Changed Leaders, Looking for a Lift. It’s Still Looking.


Just two years ago, Ford was cruising at high speed. Mr. Hackett’s predecessor, Mark Fields, guided the company to record earnings in 2015 — nearly $11 billion in pretax profit. Brimming with confidence, Mr. Fields approved several ambitious projects. He set off a hiring spree to stock up on software developers, engineers and other executives — talent that he believed Ford would need to compete as electric and self-driving cars reshape the auto industry.

Ford laid out a billion-dollar plan to remake its Dearborn, Mich., locations into a high-tech, Silicon Valley-like campus. The company invested in ride-sharing and other start-ups in a bid to turn itself into a “mobility” company. Mr. Fields and Ford’s chairman, William C. Ford Jr., called on a director — Mr. Hackett — to join the management ranks and run the mobility activities. It also introduced a $400,000 super sports car, the Ford GT.

But when Mr. Fields couldn’t move fast enough to head off slippage in Ford’s profits, the board dismissed him last May and handed the reins to Mr. Hackett, a former chief executive of Steelcase who is credited with turning around the office-furniture maker. And analysts question whether the vestiges of the Fields strategy will ever pay off.

The headquarters makeover might make Ford a more enticing place to work years down the road, but won’t generate the revenue growth the company needs now. The mobility businesses aren’t making money yet. And while the GT sports car turns heads, Ford is selling only 250 a year. “You have to ask the question: Is it really getting you showroom traffic?” said Brian Johnson of Barclays Capital.

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Its very name was synonymous with the 20th-century economy. Now it’s trying to catch up with Silicon Valley on self-driving cars.


Ford’s aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup truck, introduced in late 2014, has been a strong seller and a big generator of profits. But other parts of its core business have been sputtering. As American consumers gravitated away from cars and toward trucks, S.U.V.s and roomy but fuel-efficient S.U.V. cousins known as crossovers, Ford began losing money on cars and allowed its S.U.V. and crossover lineup to age. The current Explorer S.U.V. was introduced in 2010, and the Escape in 2012. Competing models from Toyota, Honda, G.M. and others have since been redesigned and feature newer technology.

“What they should have done is invest in the new crossovers in 2015 and 2016,” said David Whiston, an analyst at Morningstar. Crossovers, he noted, now make up a third of the American car market.

Ford also decided to drop its small pickup, the Ranger. But it is now scrambling to introduce a redesigned version of the Ranger after realizing it was losing sales of small pickups to competitors.

Mr. Hackett and his executive team have presented overviews of his vision for Ford on Wall Street and elsewhere on several occasions. At an event in March, they promised to introduce a slew of new S.U.V.s, including high-performance and off-road models. But his presentations haven’t generated much enthusiasm with investors. Ford’s stock is trading at about $11, slightly below where it stood a year ago.

Mr. Whiston said he was willing to wait for Mr. Hackett to present a comprehensive plan. But he added, “It is strange that it’s been almost a year and we don’t have any concrete details.”



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