While never being a true "car guy" or attached to any one auto brand, I confess to having long admired the Ford Motor Company. Ford’s in the news again for getting by on their own in the wash of government bailouts. But this survival trait fits the company I have observed over some time.
My intrigue started many years ago reading Halberstam's The Reckoning, a fascinating parallel history of Ford and Nissan. I still recall some of the Ford family saga -- from Henry Ford's genius, to his harsh treatment of talented son Edsel Ford, to Lee Iacocca's launch of the Ford Mustang and his later falling out with "Henry the Deuce" (Henry Ford II -- the third generation). It was a page turner and shed Ford in a new light for me. Their story is certainly not boring. A silver lining for Ford management seemed to always follow even the worst errors.
Not long after reading the book, I heard Tom Peters at a late 1980's conference say that, having consulted with each of Detroit's big three, Ford was clearly in the lead toward producing high quality vehicles. Ford leaders were the ones who "got it" on quality. Ford had just rolled out the Taurus, and around the same time began advertising, "Have you driven a Ford lately?"
To this day I feel that was a brilliant campaign, because for years Ford and the rest of Detroit had been off track with their products. They needed to win people back, and the humble message, combined with a better quality product, worked. The innovative-at-the-time Ford Taurus became in the '90's not only Ford's top model but the number one selling car in the U.S. for some years.
I like Ford's persistence and ability to make comebacks. I like their willingness to innovate ahead of their competitors. I like how they align their products with their marketing and promotion.
And so far, I like how they are being led by the current CEO -- more on that in Part Two.