By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. The more things change, the more things remain the same it seems. After enduring a withering barrage of front-page stories in the Detroit Free Press over the last two-plus years praising Ford and its “Golden Boy” CEO, and seeing Wall Street-types duped by the endless – and breathless – orchestrations by Ford PR Chief Mark Truby and his minions hook, line and sinker, you might get the impression that Ford, led by its “I’m a genius just ask me” CEO, was the Detroit automaker of the moment… and the future.
Moreover, to even the most casual observers in this town, there is no other car company operating here, thanks to the Freep and Truby’s PR minions. It is so Ford, Ford, Ford, all-the-time and 24/7, that a tip of the hat must go out to Truby, who has laid down such an impenetrable PR Fog of War that even the most jaded practitioners on Wall Street have been sucked in. This is image wrangling at its finest, although there are ominous signs that all is not well in Dearborn.
The first ominous sign? Even though Ford has a lead in EVs, albeit temporarily, and everything is projected as being so rosy for Ford’s future that all rational evaluations of the company have been meticulously buried in Truby’s “bunny rabbits and rainbows” schlock offensive, we’re getting dangerously close to a photo op of Ford’s CEO walking on water for the assembled multitudes in the automotive media.
That all of this positive affirmation seems to be going to the Ford CEO’s head is obvious, and not in the least surprising. The “boy genius” has long been enamored with the dulcet tones of his own thought balloons – that is certainly no secret in these parts – but his propensity for unsolicited public bloviation has grown to gargantuan proportions of late. That Ford’s CEO is starting to sound a lot like the Bloviator-in-Chief – Elon Musk – is beginning to alarm some in the Ford sphere of influence. (You know who you are.) Riffing about what the “new” Ford will look like, with its dealers relegated to mere functionaries as Ford moves blatantly toward the path laid down by Musk with his direct-sell, non-negotiable, one-price mantra may have perked up some Wall Street-types’ ears, but the lingering reality is that Ford has a long, long way to go before it gets even close to making that happen. And that the company has the propensity to take five steps back at a moment’s notice.
To wit: The second ominous sign. What is the one thing that I’ve been warning about when it comes to the “new” Ford and all of its PR-orchestrated protestations insisting that it’s a brand-new day, powered by a new, visionary CEO, which will result in the most forward-thinking car company in the world? The company’s inability to launch a new vehicle without some nightmare problem that crops up that well and truly screws everything up.
And no, as is Ford’s wont, we’re not talking about a loose fitting or an annoying interior amenity malfunction. It is inevitably something big, so big that there isn’t a rug big enough that it can be swept under, or nearly enough PR minion foggers to cover it up.
What is it this time? Oh, just a little thing about massive engine failures in the new Bronco. Now, normally, anything about Ford always ends up on Page One in the Freep, and it is so gushingly positive that you need a very large shovel to dig through it to find the actual newsworthy tidbits.
Sunday’s front page was decidedly different. Maybe that had something to do with Jamie L. Lareau’s 7500-word feature on Mary Barra, which was the dominant story beginning on Page One and going on for three continuing full pages inside. The most comprehensive profile of GM’s CEO to date, it was well worth the read, by the way.
But buried – and I mean buried – on the lower right corner of the METRO section, which was Page Four in Sunday’s paper, was the following headline:
2021 Ford Bronco owners report ‘catastrophic engine failures.’
The opening sentence of the story, by Phoebe Wall Howard, went like this: “The 2021 Ford Bronco is now the focus of a federal safety investigation after 32 Bronco owners complained of alarming engine failure experiences.” Meaning? “Under normal driving conditions without warning the vehicle may experience a loss of motive power without restart due to catastrophic engine failure related to a faulty valve within 2.7 L Eco-Boost Engines,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report. The investigation was opened on May 27.
The inquiry was initially reported by Carscoops.com and FordAuthority.com, and Ford admitted that 25,538 Broncos may have this problem. Howard went on, in her signature detailed fashion, to report several real-life customer experiences with these Bronco engine failures from all around the country.
One driver, from Whiteland, Indiana, wrote on May 3: “At 2,000 miles the engine dropped a valve. Vehicle has already received a new engine. Vehicle shut off running down the Interstate.”
A Granite Bay, California, driver reported that his wife was left stranded on a busy roadway in their Bronco. The diagnosis? A complete engine failure. Similar reports came from Farmington Hills, Michigan; Rochester, New York; Park City, Utah; and Middleburg, Florida, according to Howard.
I’ve got news for the “visionary” CEO of Ford, and his dutiful Chief PR minion: You can rattle on about Ford now being a digital company that happens to sell cars, or that the “new” Ford is so forward thinking that it will lead the domestic automobile industry to the Promised Land, or that every thought balloon that enters the CEO’s head can be mined for PR gold.
But the brutal reality suggests otherwise.
“Catastrophic Engine Failures” is not a mark of the “new” Ford. It’s a mark of a fumbling car company trying to write checks that it cannot cash, led by a CEO who is so far over his skis that he can’t see the gathering storm clouds ominously looming in his rearview mirror.
Given Ford’s recent history of nightmare launches, the disastrous launch failure of the Bronco, a vehicle that is supposed to represent – more than any other vehicle in Ford’s lineup – the “new” Ford, is flat-out pathetic. And strong evidence that the “new” Ford looks a lot like the old Ford, which is a giant bowl of Not Good.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor’s Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on “Next 1 Entries” below. – WG
THE “NEW” FORD LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE OLD FORD. — from Rants
By Peter M. DeLorenzo