When I take on special projects, or testify as an expert witness in an automotive case, I charge anywhere from $250 to $500 per hour depending on the complexity. However, I am going to offer up to Ford and General Motors, for free, a new mission statement for them to follow. I think it is perfectly OK for them to use the same one. Here goes:
Our mission is to build cars, trucks, SUVs, and commercial vehicles that people desire to purchase, at an affordable price, never forgetting that top-notch quality will keep us all employed.
I thought lessons had been learned by both these car companies, but apparently not.
When I was Ford National Dealer Council Chairman, I saw Ford spending billions of dollars on dot.com startups, car dealerships, salvage yards, body shops, and even a golf cart company, all of which were major flops. Call me stupid, but I suggested time and time again: Why don’t you guys stick to what you are good at and put the time and resources into what Henry Ford started?
In case both companies have forgotten, you flew private jets, along with Chrysler, to ask for bailouts. I would suggest that the money lost on these ridiculous ventures was greater than the amount needed to bail the companies out. We know the rest: Bill Ford made a brilliant move hiring Alan Mulally and he saved the company, GM and Chrysler got a lot of government money and softball bankruptcies. To be fair, both companies paid back the vast majority of the money.
Fast forward to today. We just found out that this week, Ford spent 40 million dollars to purchase an electric scooter company, and GM announced recently it would begin to build and sell electric bicycles in 2019. I must be a moron, but if I ran an automaker, I don’t think I’d build alternatives to the car, but that’s just me. When Ford was named Ford MOTOR Company and GM was named General MOTORS, I don’t think the founders were thinking electric motors.
In another brilliant move, GM is trying to buy off 18,000 workers with more than 12 years experience. Coming off a fantastic 3rd quarter of well over a 3 billion dollar profit, GM wants to buy off its most experienced employees. It wants to purge the very people who helped them get through the darkest time in its history. Translation: Dinosaurs go away, we only want people with expertise in making anything but cars. If your beanie has a propeller on it, we’ll hire you and pay our tenured people to go away. GEEZ.
Last year, Ford spent one billion dollars on a company named Argo AI, to develop virtual drivers. Bear in mind, that amount did not buy the company, it was just an “investment” to be a partner. Yes, a billion dollars as an investment into something we don’t even know there is a market for. Ford spent 65 million on Chariot, a shuttle van startup. Burn that cash!
There also appears to be much talk about a Ford merger with Volkswagen. Remember Daimler and Chrysler merging? Disaster. Not to mention that automotive mergers are never actually mergers. One company runs the other, then they eventually split up again. Ford, do you think you were good for Mazda? Do you think you are almighty? Let’s see…after you bought and lost your ass selling Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, and Aston Martin, those car companies went on to record sales and record profits, post-Ford.
GM is no better. Not long ago, GM spent one billion dollars acquiring Cruise Automation, yet another self-driving car company, with a total outgo over time of 3.35 billion dollars. Are you really buying something tangible, or an app? May I suggest you GM execs take a tour of your own OnStar facility? You guys have been doing this for years, with success. If my GM car is stolen, you can find it immediately. It seems to me you already have a lot of technology at your fingertips.
Bottom line: Ford and General Motors, wake up! You are spending all your time working on ventures we are not even sure anybody gives a damn about. Look at history. and you don’t have to go back more than 20 years. Never lose sight of the fact that you only have one customer, your dealers. If you want to see a car company focused on product, quality, and technology look no further than little Subaru and study what it is doing.
Kudos to Fiat Chrysler, I have not seen the crazy, reckless spending on third party companies I have witnessed from the other two Detroit-based companies. It continues to concentrate on building great vehicles that people want, as evidenced by strong Jeep and Ram sales over the past year or so.
Free advice for GM and Ford: When you start to stray away from your core business, refer to the mission statement I gave you and you’ll continue to be successful.
Photo Credit: Kannika Changsalak/Shutterstock