For the past few years, Ford has tried to transform its image from that of a car company into something resembling a Silicon Valley tech company that just happens to have 115 years of automotive baggage. There were countless presentations on self-driving cars, man-machine-technology interfaces, and other eye rollers. Generally, the conversation lacked car stuff, which is still the business of the Ford of right now. In a wide-reaching forum today, Ford realigned its public persona back toward reality: It is a car company, and it has some exciting cars and trucks coming out in the next few years.
It’s true that the forum, dubbed Ford Uncovered, smacked of the company responding to criticisms of its tech-happy diversions of late and trying to steady its Wall Street performance. Investor interest in Ford has sagged over legitimate concern that the company’s current job—building cars—might be neglected in its rush toward ephemeral, techy pursuits. In an attempt to shift the conversation, president and CEO Jim Hackett spoke of his company’s plans concretely and in measured, humble tones, in contrast to the often soaring rhetoric offgassed by Silicon Valley firms and upstarts like Tesla. The plan is clear, if not exactly all new: Update and replace Ford’s lineup, making it the freshest in the business by 2020; focus on trucks and SUVs; and expand hybrid availability to more core models (including, it seems, the Mustang). By all appearances, Ford will continue to develop advanced self-driving-car and connected-city technologies. It just probably will stop blathering on about that until it’s closer to reality.
Soon, Ford will release an all-new Escape to take on a generally younger roster of compact crossover competitors, from the latest Honda CR-V to General Motors’ Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain to the 10Best-awarded Mazda CX-5. Around the same time, there will be an all-new Explorer. The current model is old—it was introduced for the 2011 model year—and decidedly mediocre, although it has seen sales increases in every year to date. To spice things up, the new Explorer will get a sporty ST model, just as the latest Edge has.
Beyond the Escape and Explorer, there is the new Bronco (pictured above) as well as a second, unnamed, and roughly Escape-sized “off road” SUV (the rendering pictured below). Ford president of global markets Jim Farley promises that the Bronco’s take on the theme will differ from Jeep’s. Contrasting the Bronco against the Wrangler (Farley didn’t say it, but it was clear which Jeep product he was referring to), the Ford was described as being good to drive on-road as well as off-road, and hints were dropped that the Bronco’s interior won’t be spartan. It isn’t yet clear if Ford’s other announcement, that every SUV in its lineup will offer a hybrid powertrain option, applies to the Bronco.
Speaking about technology, Ford promised that it will make a new safety-technology bundle standard by 2020 on nearly every vehicle smaller than the F-series Super Duty. It will be called Ford Co-Pilot360, and it will include automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high-beam control, lane-keeping assist, and a backup camera. Competitors such as Honda and Toyota have already begun spreading similar technologies as standard equipment throughout their lineup, rather than charging extra for them or limiting the features to higher-priced models.
In a bid to streamline its operations, Ford has consolidated most of the heavy decision-making on new product to a small group of upper executives, including CEO Hackett. The brand also plans to reduce its offerings to variants of just five vehicle architectures worldwide: a front-drive unibody, a rear-drive unibody, a van unibody, body-on-frame for trucks, and an electric platform. Apparently, only 30 percent of each model based off one of those platforms will be customizable—with variations limited to styling elements such as headlights and hoods. The number of vehicle combinations and trims that can be ordered will also be reduced, lowering costs and reducing build complexity.
Ford insists that even if its bolder bets on trucks, hybrids, and fancier tech don’t pay off, it still is looking to come out of its proposed realignment with a better-running company benefiting from reduced costs and shorter development time for new products. That sounds great, particularly because vehicles such as the Bronco and—as confirmed again at this event—the new Mustang Shelby GT500 (previewed below) can’t arrive soon enough. Something’s gotta pay for all those grand plans, and wouldn’t you know it, building other cars is better for achieving that than vaguely emulating tech companies.