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CEO Jim Hackett pushing Ford team as investors watch with caution

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

The answer: The talk is more typical for Silicon Valley than the industrial heartland.

Bob Wiseman, senior associate dean at the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, is a Ford shareholder who wants the company to thrive. Hackett's public remarks about forming a vision and the challenge of persuading others to come along are jarring, he said.

"To get others to follow your vision, you first need one, and it should be clear and inspiring," Wiseman said. "The market is looking at leaders of the company and assessing. Does this guy know what he's doing? If they say, 'I'm not sure,' well, they'll price that in."

When Hackett delivered the keynote address last month at the CES tech show in Las Vegas, he shared his stage with a Harvard ethicist who conducted a Socratic exercise with the audience. It isn't what the crowd expected.

Hackett outlined how autonomous vehicles present the opportunity to reshape mobility and cities in a way that connected infrastructure better serves people's needs.

"Ford's vision for the smart city is an interesting premise, but at this point, it's not too much more than that," said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds. "Bringing this smart city to reality will require significant municipal cooperation and investment, and it remains to be seen if local governments share Ford's ambitions.

 

"It's admirable that Ford is taking a philosophical approach and is looking at how connected vehicles can change society for the better, however, this future is a long way off," she said. "In the meantime, Ford has an opportunity to better articulate how they're going to improve the lives of car shoppers today."

'Needs to have a clear vision'

Tesla CEO Elon Musk gets away with a more provocative approach because he comes from tech, "a different industry," Wiseman said. "People see Elon Musk dabbling in advanced and futuristic kinds of markets. He wants to go to the moon. Hackett has a legacy to take care of. He just, I mean, he needs to have a clear vision."

Adam Jonas, Morgan Stanley auto analyst, has said Ford's road map is "vague and unstructured" compared with that of General Motors.

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