The plan Ford Motor outlined this week puts the No. 2 U.S. automaker squarely back in the electrification game after literally years of dithering as an exhausting leadership struggle ensued at the very top of the company with the departure of former CEO Alan Mulally more than five years ago.

Elena Ford, of the ruling Ford family at Ford Motor, is the company’s Chief Customer Experience Officer.

Since Mulally left, Ford has had three CEOs and seen a number of top leadership contenders leave the company entirely. Jim Farley finally emerged at the top of Ford with the departure of arch-rival Joe Hinrichs last year (Hinrichs is the former CEO of Ford in Canada, BTW).

Farley won the day, then. He’s the latest CEO, to emerged atop Ford, and appears to have the solid backing of Bill Ford Jr. That’s essential because Ford was (under founder Henry Ford, of course) and remains a family-run operation.

Bill Ford oversees the Ford family’s voting shares, and those shares essentially control the entire multi-billion-dollar global car company. Bill Ford, a noted agoraphobic, himself took a brief stab at running the company day-to-day, but quickly realized he was in over his head – which led him to recruit Mulally from Boeing in the mid-2000s. It was an act of pure desperation; at the time, Ford was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Farley is a Mullaly recruit. A former Toyota marketing boss, Mulally initially brought in Farley to run Ford’s global marketing. He has since skyrocketed to the top of Ford, successfully navigating the notorious infighting described by many knowledgeable observers and insiders. In any case, who says marketers are ill-equipped to run industrial conglomerates? Perhaps their image-making toolbox is useful in C-suite knife-fights?

Ford+ means electrified versions of transit fans are in the offing.

But when families are in charge, odd things can happen, I suppose. And the global car business remains in many instances a collection of family businesses. In a sense, it’s a “small” industry on a global scale.

Yes, the Fords control Ford, just as the Quandts control BMW and the Agnelli and Peugeot families hold sway as the largest shareholders of Stellantis, the new combination of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot. Did I mention that Akio Toyoda is CEO of, yes, Toyota Motor? Even the newest darling of the auto industry, Tesla, is essentially a cult-of-personality led by its founder and leading shareholder, Elon Musk.


While the dollar sums are huge and the industrial implications are enormous, what’s we’re seeing emerge in the car business is battle between the old and the new – between old families like Ford and the bumptious newcomers like Musk. And the struggle is centered on who will make the best decisions around electrification.

On Wednesday, Ford outlined plans to boost spending on its electrification efforts by more than a third. The goal is to have 40 per cent of its global volume be all electric by 2030. This is a dramatic acceleration in Ford’s EV push, which had languished as the company struggled to resolve the leadership struggles.

This latest plan is dubbed “Ford+.” It calls for Ford to spend more than US$30-billion on electrification, including battery development, by 2030. The old target was US$22-billion.

Already, Ford has launched the all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover to great acclaim and last week provided details about the Lightning all-electric version of the F-150 pickup, with a starting price before incentives of less than US$40,000 in the U.S. Nearly 45,000 potential buyers have put a deposit down for the right to purchase a Lightning. Ford also has shown plans to introduce an electric version of the Transit van.

“This is our biggest opportunity for growth and value creation since Henry Ford started to scale the Model T,” Ford Chief Executive Jim Farley said in a statement, again invoking the Ford family. Clearly, he understands that keeping the Ford clan onside is crucial to his success.

A lot has changed in what car companies sell, but the core nature of the car business remains the provenance of founders whose heirs continue to hold sway. Ford and other global automakers are surely in a race to shift their gasoline-powered lineups to all electric power.

But the decisions on how they will run that race remain in the hands of the Fords, the Quandts, the Agnellis, the Peugeots, the Toyodas and the Musks.

Comments are closed.