An Open Letter to Ford’s Incoming CEO

TO: Mr. Allan Mulally, CEO-designate, Ford Motor Company

FROM: David L. Brown

SUBJECT: Your exciting new challenge.

Dear Mr. Mulally:

Congratulations on having been chosen as the new CEO of Ford Motor Company. Like Boeing, which you helped successfully guide through a troubled time following 9/11, Ford is an American icon that is entering a period of great testing. I wish you all the best in meeting your great new challenge.

Ford is not alone in facing a future that is experiencing rapid change and plagued with uncertainty. Nearly every corporate entity, government, or individual on the face of the Earth is to one degree or another being forced to recognize that the future will not be like the past. There are many reasons for this, but I can summarize them in a few bullet points:

  • The world is running out of key resources such as oil, timber, and minerals.
  • The atmosphere is carrying a growing load of greenhouse gases that is beginning to send the global temperature to unprecedented and dangerous levels.
  • The oceans are becoming acidic and may soon begin to lose vital biological species that are important to the maintainance of a balanced ecology
  • Our polar regions and glaciers worldwide are rapidly melting, adding to the greenhouse gas problem and threatening to create climate changes that could vastly alter our world.
  • The planet’s population continues to grow apace, and the new people are demanding ever higher standards of living. Under present industrial models the standard of the West is an unattainable goal for about six billion people in developing nations.

I am sure you are aware of these facts, and if not I would recommend that you acquaint yourself with them in the near future because your success or failure will depend upon your understanding of the quite different conditions in the world today. Not only Al Gore, but the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and many other respected scientific organizations now recognize with virtually no reservations that global warming is real, that it is caused by human activity, and that it poses a serious threat to the very future of civilization.

The challenge to auto makers hinges on two crucial issues. First, the contribution of gasoline and diesel emissions to the atmosphere, and second the economic threat of future oil scarcity and skyrocketing prices.

In the light of these facts, for a company such as Ford to continue to conduct itself in the same manner as it has in the past would be a suicidal, lemming-like act of self destruction. The future is not going to be like the past, and those who hold to the old ways will be swept away before the tidal wave of environmental change that is looming over us today. Those that continue to run with the lemmings will sink beneath the waves of failure and corporate extinction.

How should a company that has earned its keep for nearly a century primarily by manufacturing internal combustion powered automobiles and trucks respond to this uncertain future? That remains to be seen, but I can tell you that if you continue to bank the future of Ford on the manufacture of F-150 pickup trucks, Explorers, Expeditions, and Navigators, you will go down with the lemmings. Only by breaking away and making a new beginning can you insure a place in the future for Ford. And, in doing so, you will be doing your small part to help save the planet and secure a future for humanity, something that in my opinion is about the only thing worth doing today.

The tide of change is running strong, and you can resist it only at your serious peril. Even today I read that Ford is among major automakers targeted by suits from the State of California to hold your company and other industry leaders accountable for the effects of global warming. Here’s an excerpt from Bloomberg.com (read it all here):

The lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in Oakland said General Motors, Ford, Toyota Motor Corp., DaimlerChrysler AG, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co., the six largest automakers in the U.S., have created a “public nuisance” by making millions of vehicles that emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

The suit, which seeks damages related to pollution, beach erosion and reduced water supplies, is the latest action by California to push businesses and the federal government to address global warming. The legislature approved a measure last month to force utilities to cut emissions, and the state has sued the U.S. for failing to address the effects of global warming.

“Vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming, yet the federal government and the automakers have refused to act,” said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer in a statement.

This is not part of some fad or passing fancy that will soon be eclipsed by other interests for the public’s attention. Global warming and the climate change is it causing are becoming exponentially more significant, and the rolling drumbeat of demands for change will only become louder and more insistent. Arguments by nay-sayers are growing strident and weak, and will soon fade away before the tsunami of reality. It is no longer an issue that can be ignored, denied, or countered by slick public relations. Too much of that has been done already and continues to be done by lemming corporations [see the preceding essay on the Royal Society vs. Exxon-Mobil for another example of how environmental awareness is gaining momentum].

The strategy of denial and counter-attack by special interests that has held back our world from moving to sustainable models is now a shabby, tattered cloth that is worn so thin that even the fine print of a legal document could be read through it. And, as the above-mentioned news report about the State of California hints, the leaders of lemming-like corporations may soon be getting a lot of practice at reading legal documents.

What can you personally do to make Ford Motor Co. a symbol of change and crown your career with success? It is really not so hard to see the broad outlines of an answer to that question. First, you must become an advocate for the Earth. You must lead Ford away from the lemming pack and let it speak out plainly about the need for change, not just for Ford itself but for our society as a whole. You must dedicate your efforts to making Ford an instrument for positive change, and seek support for that brave pilgrimage into the future.

You must challenge your engineers to develop ecologically sound vehicles, ones that not only leave a lighter footprint on the environment through reduced emissions, but which are also practical, economical, and affordable. The answer is not to follow the path envisioned by Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman for new products, who I quoted in the June 3 posting titled “GM’s Strange View of the Future.” On his personal blog, Bob told how he had “debunked the myth” of GM’s “imminent collapse.” Bob’s answer to those foul rumors was to point out that GM would soon introduce “the most powerful Cadillac ever,” another gas-guzzling behemouth that produces 500 h.p., costs $77,090, and gets 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway. What unstable quicksand on which to bet the future of a once-proud company.

Unless you want to lead Ford over the cliff with the lemmings, I would strongly suggest that you avoid thinking like Bob Lutz apparently does. The day when “the most powerful” is a strong selling point except to irresponsible and ignorant morons is long past. The companies that provide powerful leadership in the direction of energy efficiency and sustainability will succeed far better than those that merely provide powerful vehicles. Don’t wait for Congress or the EPA to raise CAFE standards, but get ahead of the curve and set your own agenda.

Here are some other ideas for how Ford can begin to re-build itself as a force for the future. You may take these and use them with my compliments:

• Provide at no cost to each state governor, each U.S. Representative, and each member of the Senate a Ford alternative vehicle for the unlimited use of them or their family or staff for 36 months. An excellent choice would be the Escape Hybrid, a car of which Ford can already be proud. These thought leaders would be encouraged by their desire to project a “green” image to drive these cars, and in doing so they will become aware of the potential for hybrids as a first tentative step to a more environmentally sound future. Dare I mention that the publicity value for Ford would be beyond price.

• You personally should drive (or be driven in) a Ford hybrid vehicle at all times. If you are expecting to ride a Lincoln stretch limo to your new job in Detroit, give that bad idea some more thought. Appearances are everything, and examples are set at the top. If they are smart, your executive staff will begin to follow your example. If they do not, perhaps they need to be replaced.

• Create special incentives for Ford employees to own and drive hybrids, through easy payment plans, discounts, and grants. Use hybrids as rewards for employee activities that make Ford more efficient and more successful. These programs would create a “do as we do” image for the company while helping motivate Ford to become innovative, to set itself apart as a leader.

• Begin to find new product lines to reinvigorate your manufacturing assets. Under-utilized or mothballed factories are a terrible waste that have a negative impact not only on Ford’s bottom line but also on its present, former, and future employees. One idea: Devote an assembly plant to producing wind generators to help replace fossil fuel as the major source of electrical power in this nation. Engineering and manufacturing efficient and affordable wind generators should be a piece of cake for Ford’s engineers and assembly line workers. Putting faltering factories back on line will invigorate their communities and put Ford’s people and assets back to work. Such a program would create a public image to back up Ford’s commitment to the environment and with your good management from the top, it should also be profitable.

• Finally, take these starting points as a mere beginning and build steadily upon them. Within three years you should be planning to replace those complimentary hybrid cars with a new generation of vehicles even more efficient, environmentally friendly, and affordable than ever. The momentum must never be allowed to slacken, for the stakes are high and the threats are real. Change from every side is bearing down on our planet like an avalanche, and there is no time to dither, no time for doubt. The world is changing, and if Ford is to have a role in the future it must not only demonstrate its ability to change with the times, but must become a leader in that effort.

I hope these ideas may be of some value to you. I will be watching with interest to see the new directions in which you lead Ford in the years to come. You have my best hopes for a job well done.

Respectfully, David L. Brown

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