In developing the Ford+ plan, Farley and his team identified areas where they felt the company needed to improve. Those include policy, customer experience and software. There also is a focus on modernizing within the existing workforce, developing in-house software capabilities and preparing employees for the transition to vehicles powered by electric motors instead of internal combustion engines.
Experts say federal policy will play an even more important role than it has during previous eras of transition in the global auto industry. Take, for example, the need to build infrastructure that supports EVs.
"People are not going to buy vehicles they can't operate because there's no electricity for them," Gordon said. "So, that makes policy important. As they move also toward driver assistance and then autonomous vehicles, that's going to be constrained by and driven by policy considerations — policies made by politicians."
New technologies, supply chain snarls and trade issues also are at the forefront. The industry currently is navigating through one of its most complex supply-chain challenges ever, for example: the months-long shortage of computer chips that promises to grow more pressing as vehicles become more technologically advanced.
"Whether you're talking about globalization, interface with ... China or Europe, policy issues, or tech issues, those historically were a lot simpler years ago than they are today," Cole said. "And I think particularly when you're looking at the senior level in terms of policy, you better make sure you're well-connected to every factor that's going to have some impact on the business."
Enter Huntsman, a Republican, and Croley, a Democrat. Their roles are broad-ranging and global, focused on policy areas including sustainability, government affairs, international politics, energy and trade.
Huntsman was eyed for his international affairs chops, particularly in China. As the world's largest auto market and one where EVs are being adopted more rapidly than in North America, China is a focus for Ford and other global automakers as they look to achieve the global scale needed to make the investment in EVs pay off.
Ford historically has been a smaller player in the region. But it has seen some progress with a new product portfolio geared toward the preferences of Chinese customers, as well as the promise of new EVs prepared to challenge rival Tesla Inc. there.
Huntsman is said to have a deep understanding of the China market, consumers there, and the who's who in politics after serving as the U.S. ambassador to China under former President Barack Obama. He speaks fluent Mandarin and has extensive experience in the region.
He rejoined Ford's board of directors last year and in April was tapped as vice chair of policy, an expanded role that has him advising Farley and Executive Chair Bill Ford. He's tasked with working with teams across the company, and representing Ford "with certain government officials and influencers in the United States and other countries around the world," the company said in announcing his new position.