Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ford just doesn't get it

Here is a recent statement from Ford CEO William Clay Ford, Jr, the guy who's been in their commercials this summer assuring us how much Ford cares about cars, communities, and the environment. "An unprecedented spike in gasoline prices during the second quarter impacted our product lineup more than that of our competition because of the long-standing success of our trucks and SUVs."

Let me get this straight. We've been at war in the Middle East for 3 years. Surely it occurred to someone at Ford that war might affect gas prices. And he's actually saying that their competitors are not as affected by high gas prices because "we've always sold a lot of trucks and SUVs in the past." No, your competitors are less affected because they didn't bank all their efforts on large, inefficient vehicles that no one wants now.

(I don't have anything personal against this CEO. I know spin when I hear it, and he is blaming me, the customer, for not wanting his product. I have been driving a Ford Contour since 1996. It's been a great, dependable car that gets about 24 mpg. I'm waiting to buy a hybrid. Most new cars, costing $20,000+, don't get better gas mileage than my Contour! In ten years, I would have expected at least an improvement of 10 mpg. in efficiency.)

In a news story about the plant closures last week, the reporter said that Ford blames high gas prices, which "pushed consumers away from its trucks and SUVs." This is a classic example of the old business model of push communication: "If you build it, they will buy." If Ford had been ahead of the curve, working on hybrids and other types of highly efficient cars, instead of continuing to make only big trucks (Ford spokesperson, "But our F-150s run on ethanol!") they could have matched this "unprecedented spike" with a great new line-up of fuel-efficient cars that consumers were ready for.

Ford (and the other U.S. automakers) banked on the old business model, and lost. And all their employees are losing, too. When I think about the ripple effect that these plant closures will have on entire communities, I feel disappointed in this company and all their talk of innovation and "Bold Moves" sounds hollow. Now that higher gas prices are here to stay, why aren't American car companies ready? Where are all the hybrids? They're on order at the Toyota and Honda dealerships, where you can't even test-drive something because they can't keep demos on the lot.

I feel sorry for the Ford employees who are paying the price for the company's short-sightedness. And, while I'd like to support American business, no one has the hybrid I want.

Tips of the day: Make sure you don't change your message mid-stream, because consumers remember and know when they're hearing spin. Don't blame your customers for not wanting your product if you aren't paying attention to trends. And, stay ahead of the curve. Listen to your customers today so you have the products or services they want tomorrow.

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