Focusing on problems won't move Ford forward

Ford announced its "Way Forward" with huge white- and blue-collar job cuts, and plans to shutter 14 plants.

Ford announced its "Way Forward" with huge white- and blue-collar job cuts, and plans to shutter 14 plants.

The day after, stories were replete with photos of despondent workers leaving Ford's Wixom, MI, plant, heads hung low, straggling across the parking lot, pink slips in hand, or bellying up to a Dearborn, MI, bar, having just learned they are out of work.

Bill Ford hit back on television last week, appearing in a campaign to talk about the company's problems and to offer a promise of a bright "Blue Oval" future. In reality, the company is in the communications equivalent of a flat spin. It's a term GM's product czar and former Marine pilot Bob Lutz might know well: It's what happens when a plane, having stalled in flight, winds up spinning on its axis like a pinwheel while falling through the air like a dinner plate. The only way out is to generate lift under the wings, by moving forward. Too bad, because the plane is spinning.

Similarly, consumers are buying cars from Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and others because they think those cars are sexier, better, and come from more reliable companies. Those carmakers can back it up with product built in flexible plants.

GM and Ford are shackled by legacy costs, sagging car sales, and expensive incentive campaigns, which only hurt the companies' reputations. The restructuring is meant to fix all of this, but the message in the papers, and possibly in Bill Ford's TV presence, might only make the negative spin worse: "Should I buy a car from a company when my newspaper says it may go out of business and even Bill Ford admits problems?"

To cure a flat spin in a plane, push the yoke forward and kick the opposite rudder, as if one actually wanted to dive straight into the ground. Don't try that in a car. Even Lee Iacocca's "If you can find a better car, buy it" focused on product, not problems.

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