Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

Automobile - - Contents - By Mike Floyd

You don’t stop root­ing for the home team just be­cause the coach makes a few ques­tion­able calls.

AS SOME OF you might know, I’m a Detroit homer for life. I’ve been in Cal­i­for­nia for the bet­ter part of 12 years now, but I was born and raised in Mo­town. I will al­ways root for the home teams: the Lions (yeah, yeah, I know), Pis­tons, Tigers, Red Wings—and Gen­eral Motors, Ford, and Chrysler (sorry, I’ll never get used to Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles).

When things looked bleak for Detroit’s Big Three dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion, it was tough to watch and even tougher to see peo­ple root­ing for them to fail. In no way was I ig­no­rant of the dis­as­trous de­ci­sions, decades of mis­man­age­ment, and in­fe­rior prod­ucts that helped lead them to the brink. But I be­lieved they would make good on their sec­ond chances. The re­sults have been un­even, but close to a decade later, I firmly be­lieve the au­to­mo­tive land­scape is bet­ter off with them still a part of it. I be­lieve a world with Corvettes, Mus­tangs, and Hell­cats is an in­her­ently bet­ter one.

We are rapidly ap­proach­ing an­other reck­on­ing, how­ever. It’s a fun­da­men­tal shift in how hu­mans in­ter­act with cars, one that will serve as the ul­ti­mate test not only for the tra­di­tional do­mes­tic au­tomak­ers but also for ev­ery global player. And this time, not ev­ery­one will sur­vive.

Ford’s re­cently an­nounced plan to shed most of its sedan pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing the Fu­sion, Fo­cus, Fi­esta, and Taurus, can be viewed in a num­ber of ways. Our Jamie Kit­man takes the crit­i­cal tack in his col­umn this month (hard to be­lieve), scold­ing Ford for go­ing back on prom­ises of mak­ing more fuel-ef­fi­cient cars and sell­ing out for short­term profit.

In some ways, I be­lieve Kit­man is cor­rect. This de­ci­sion is about the short term, but only in the sense that Ford needs to batten down the hatches, to gather the cash it needs to make it through the next 20 to 30 years. Does any­one at Ford re­ally be­lieve that sell­ing heav­ier, less ef­fi­cient, gaso­linepow­ered trucks and crossovers is the way for­ward? Be­cause if they do, it’s prob­a­bly best to just go ahead and shut things down now. But I be­lieve the Blue Oval is mak­ing the move to help en­sure its long-term sur­vival as we en­ter a new era of mo­bil­ity.

Like the rest of the in­dus­try, Ford has been stung by Tesla’s run­away suc­cess on Wall Street and by its charis­matic CEO, Elon Musk, who has be­come the pied piper for a bat­tery-elec­tric-pow­ered fu­ture. Ford’s stock con­tin­ues to be mired in the low teens. Tesla stock, other than a few hic­cups brought on in part by its much-hyped pro­duc­tion is­sues, has re­mained near or above $300 all year—and it has been even big­ger at times from a mar­ket cap­i­tal­iza­tion stand­point than Ford and GM. It must be ex­tremely dis­com­fort­ing and dis­ap­point­ing to see it un­fold from Dear­born.

But de­spite some of its legacy pro­duc­tion and per­cep­tion is­sues, Ford has mas­sive ad­van­tages of scale and is in­vest­ing $11 bil­lion into fu­ture propulsion and tech­nol­ogy ef­forts. That’s a hell of a lot of cash. Ford has been on the front end of hy­brid tech, which more than one ex­pert be­lieves is the key bridge tech­nol­ogy. Ford is also rel­a­tively big in China, a mar­ket that de­mands a strong EV game, though it has been strug­gling there a bit lately.

You can rail against crossovers all you want, but what was Tesla’s sec­ond ve­hi­cle? Yep, a cross­over. What’s next af­ter the Model 3? I’ll give you one guess. But don’t get it twisted: I’d much, much rather drive a car like the Fo­cus RS, a Fi­esta ST, or a Fu­sion than an Ex­plorer. Taurus SHO for the win!

For what­ever rea­son, that’s not what the rest of the U.S. or the rest of the ve­hi­cledriv­ing world wants. They want a per­cep­tion of more space, safety, and a higher ride. For now, gas prices make that more eas­ily at­tain­able, and re­gard­less of whether buy­ers have been pushed in that di­rec­tion by clever mar­ket­ing, it’s now nigh im­pos­si­ble to put that bus in re­verse. Sooner or later, the pe­tro­leum house of cards will fall, and when the mu­sic stops, where will Ford be?

Peo­ple freaked out, lit­er­ally throw­ing away less fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles for tiny gaso­line sip­pers when gas prices spiked well past $4 per gal­lon more than a decade ago. If some­thing sim­i­lar were to hap­pen again and gas sud­denly pushes up to $10 per gal­lon right as Ford kills off its cars, there will be trou­ble. But this was a bet on the long game, a way of pre­par­ing for the in­evitable shift to come. If it’s any­thing other than that, I’ll turn it over to Kit­man.

The good news, if there is any? A new GT500 is com­ing! AM

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