Ford CEO Hits Back At Electric Vehicle ‘Politics,’ Disinformation

By automotive-mag.com 7 Min Read

If you’re an auto industry executive in 2024, there are three ways to do your job: actively fight against any sort of global electrified transition, bury your head in the sand and aim to retire fast enough for it to be someone else’s problem, or actively face these challenges head-on. I give credit to Ford CEO Jim Farley for taking the third path. 

Ford hasn’t always gotten the EV transformation right under Farley’s watch. It’s had many of the same stumbles as any other established automaker or even startup out there. Software presents endless headaches, production costs are high, the dealer networks often don’t want to play ball, and economic and political trends mean that widespread EV adoption will likely take longer than anyone anticipated.

Still, Ford under Farley—who took the top job at the automaker in 2020—has been repeatedly willing to think outside the box when it comes to EVs. He got Tesla CEO Elon Musk to open up the North American Charging Standard plug to the rest of the industry, hired tech-savvy executives who know what they’re doing, established a “skunkworks” team to build an affordable EV platform that can take on competitors from China and built out Ford’s EV operation as a separate business line. 

That’s a lot. Especially for a 121-year-old company that is, by the accounts of many inside it who I’ve spoken to, a tough ship to turn around. But Farley does seem to get where this is all going, and he recognizes that Ford and other so-called “legacy” automakers will be made irrelevant and extinct if they don’t adapt. 

And Farley seems to get that Ford is a different animal than Tesla or Lucid or Rivian, with a much larger and more traditional customer base to convince to go electric over time. I think that’s one reason he penned this article on LinkedIn today touting the benefits of EVs. The article, “Confessions From a Lifelong Petrol Head—I Love Electric Vehicles And It Has Nothing To Do With Politics,” is worth a read in full. 

“As a lifelong petrolhead, I was [as] surprised as anyone when I fell in love with electric vehicles,” Farley wrote. “It wasn’t government policies or political beliefs that sparked this late-career romance with electric vehicles. It’s because I drive one: my Ford F-150 Lightning Platinum… Every morning, mine is topped up with 300 miles of range. No gas stations, ever.”

The article was published ahead of Farley’s appearance Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. In it, the CEO hits back at many of the criticisms levied at Ford as of late: that EVs are an enormous cash drain, they’re inferior replacements for gas-powered vehicles and that people are being “forced” into them by the government. 

“As the CEO of a major automaker, I feel compelled to tell customers the truth about electric vehicles amid all the disinformation and misunderstandings,” Farley wrote. “It’s true that we are losing money on electric vehicles in the first innings of this transition, largely due to the upfront investment costs. But that too is changing. After all, what major technological leap forward wasn’t challenging and costly at the early stages?”

Farley added, “The tipping point we’re working toward will come not from regulators who push us or from politicians who try to hold us back. It will come from consumers.”

That last part, and the timing of this note, are key here. The note makes no mention of any specific politicians, but it was released the morning after the CNN Presidential Debate between President Joe Biden and his rival, former President Donald Trump. My guess is Ford anticipated EVs would become a point of contention between the two candidates, as has happened many times before—specifically the Biden Administration’s investments into charging infrastructure and advocacy of EV tax credits. (EVs actually didn’t come up much during the debate; let’s just say things went in a much weirder direction.) 

But as Farley notes here, EVs have become highly political in America, despite merely being another form of technology. If Trump is reelected in November, there’s a strong chance that the EV tax credit program could disappear, and that Biden’s tougher new fuel economy rules could be rolled back. That may slow the industry’s electric push. But as Farley implies here, it could merely mean that America will end up even further behind on the mobility technology of tomorrow than it already is now. After all, the nascent Chinese auto industry received some $230 billion in federal subsidies over 15 years, and now Western and other Asian automakers are scrambling to catch up.  

“We are in a global race to compete in a future where electric propulsion will undoubtedly be a giant force in transportation,” Farley wrote. “America cannot cede innovation leadership to China, Europe, or any other region. Ford has survived and thrived for 121 years because we have never been shy about seizing the moment to innovate and face the future. Now, we are investing billions in plants, tech centers, and our workforce to create the must-have cars, SUVs, and trucks of tomorrow.” 

Farley closes his note by saying that Ford is committed to offering a range of powertrain choices for customers, including hybrids and internal combustion vehicles. But as a consummate car guy—he races Mustangs in whatever free time he has—he encourages people to give EVs a try too.

“You are better off trying one for yourself and making your own decision,” he wrote. “What’s more American than that? Who knows, you might just surprise yourself.”

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