Ford Has No Room to Screw This Up

Ford went into a bad year with some severe challenges. Now it has some big-deal launches it can't afford to get wrong.

Good Monday morning and welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive’s roundup of the news that matters most in the world of cars and transportation. On our docket today: how Ford is attempting to mount a comeback, a plan to boost Great Britain’s flagging electric car industry and the United Auto Workers’ concerns about coronavirus at U.S. plants.

Ford’s Big 2020 Launches Are A Chance To Make Things Right

This has been an abysmal year for the global auto industry as a whole, but Ford came into it in a weaker position than most. (Besides Nissan, of course.) Profits last year were way down, the stock price is awful, the launch of the important Explorer was a total mess and investors are beginning to lose patience. 

Though sales are way, way down thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic downturn, one ray of hope has been truck and SUV sales for the American automakers. Now, Ford has four important launches coming up this summer (unless they get delayed for obvious reasons, of course) and they represent a chance for Ford to strike back. 

Those vehicles are, as The Detroit Free Press notes:

I can’t overstate how crucial that last one is. All the other cars, and indeed most of Ford’s other vehicles, are salad dressing. The F-Series is what keeps the lights on. And the truck war between the Big Three is more competitive than ever. 

So Ford can’t really stand to have, say, the production problems that accompanied the Explorer last year. That’s a tough order now, given intense safety precautions inside plants and delays if more outbreaks occur. And the major takeaway from that story is that each launch presents its own problems:

  • The F-150 is an all-new truck, but a less earthshaking change than the previous model, when Ford ripped the guts out of the Rouge plant and switched from steel to aluminum bodies. In addition, Ford will stagger adding models to production to reduce the number of things that can go wrong.
  • The Mach-E is inherently easier to build because electric vehicles have far fewer parts than traditional ones. That launch team also had the luxury of taking more than a year to lay out the new assembly line and de-bug the system.
  • The Bronco uses the same platform as the Ranger midsize pickup, built with good quality on the same assembly line that will produce Broncos.
  • Similarly, the Bronco Sport uses the same underpinnings and assembly process as the Escape and Corsair. It’ll have a unique body and plenty of new parts, but the commonalities should pay off at launch time.

I’m not sure I agree about the new F-150 being “less earthshaking” than the one that launched in 2013, as this one is expected to go a lot bigger on tech and will eventually have hybrid and full EV versions. But the central point is correct: Ford’s got to get these right. 

We’ll see more from the new F-150 in a few weeks, and I think it will be the most important new car debut of 2020. 

Boris Johnson May Give You Money To Trade Your Car For An EV

And by “you,” I mean “you, a citizen of the United Kingdom, a loyal subject of Her Majesty, the Queen, and a boiled meat and warm beer enthusiast.” Yes, this news item is from the U.K., but it’s noteworthy as a matter of policy.

The Telegraph reports British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce a £6,000 (about $7,600) credit for people who want to trade their gasoline or diesel car for an EV. EVs already come with a government grant in the U.K., so this would be an extra incentive to go electric. 

But what’s different is that this program is described as a “scrappage” scheme, meant to stimulate both a weak economy and Britain’s slow EV market. In other words: a green “Cash for Clunkers.”

That story’s paywalled, but This Is Money has the scoop:

Industry insiders have been calling for an incentive to help the car industry recover from the coronavirus, with the lockdown forcing motor dealerships to close for two months and saw registrations of new cars plummet by 97 percent in April and 89 percent in May to the lowest levels since the end of the Second World War.

The Prime Minister would also see the move as a positive break for UK manufacturing, with the popular Nissan Leaf build at the Japanese firm’s factory in Sunderland and Mini’s Plant Oxford producing the all-new Mini Electric.

Jaguar Land Rover has also set out plans to increase its electric vehicle offering, having already brought plug-in hybrid models to the market—though the firm’s only pure-electric car so far is the Jaguar I-Pace SUV, which is built in Graz, Austria.

Such a move would be a huge milestone for the sector as it would bring price parity for electric cars compared to models with internal combustion engines for the first time in the UK.

This should be interesting. And I could definitely see similar moves happening in the U.S. eventually. If we are to do another Cash for Clunkers—and remember, the last one we did was kind of a mess—it absolutely should prioritize EVs, hybrids, and high-efficiency vehicles.

Coronavirus Still Looms Large In Detroit

Like I said last week, it’s hard to fathom that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, given other headlines as of late. But we are, and that could very well prove an impediment to the auto industry getting back to full speed again. 

Safety measures at plants are intense, but what the UAW wants is widespread testing, including for healthy and asymptomatic people. Problem is, that it doesn’t exist yet in this country. Here’s Automotive News:

Despite temperature checks, daily health screenings and mandatory protective equipment, a handful of positive COVID-19 cases have slipped through the system in the weeks since North American plants reopened. Although symptomatic workers can get tests that produce results in about 24 hours, the UAW continues to push for every union worker to be tested at regular intervals until a vaccine is available.

Such testing at that scale does not yet exist, and some argue that even that might not keep factory floors free of infections. There’s a growing sense that the industry’s recovery could sputter through fits and starts well into 2021.

“We see ourselves probably in this mode for another year, realistically maybe a year and a half,” UAW President Rory Gamble told Automotive News. “We’re dug in for the long haul. Where we have to shut down going forward to make sure the facility is clean and safe, we intend to engage in that type of activity to protect life.”

As that story notes, the goal isn’t to stop every last case, but to stop outbreaks. That’s why testing is going to be vital in the months to come, or until a vaccine is here.

On Our Radar

Dealers see hot trucks but cool inventory (Automotive News)

Bentley to Cut 1,000 U.K. Jobs in Recovery Plan After Virus (Bloomberg)

GM to donate millions to promote inclusion and racial justice (Detroit Free Press)

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“Pack an Umbrella”: Hong Kong Protesters Share Their Best Strategies and Tactics (GQ)

The Last Time the U.S. Army Cleared Demonstrators From Pennsylvania Avenue (Politico)

Can 8 Million Daily Riders Be Lured Back to N.Y. Mass Transit? (NY Times)

Your Turn

Do you think those cars (well, those trucks and crossovers) can power Ford to a comeback?