US:Workers peek at future Ford cars
Workers peek at future Ford cars
Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co. is taking an unprecedented step to convince employees and retirees that there is light at the end of the automaker's dark financial tunnel.
Later this month, Ford will pull back the curtain on its future product plans to give workers and former workers a glimpse at what the company is calling the "Showroom of the Future."
The event, to be held Nov. 27 and 28 at Detroit's Cobo Arena, will allow two key Ford constituencies to see vehicles that the automaker plans to roll out by 2010.
"Through our North America 'Way Forward' plan, we've spoken a lot about reducing our uncompetitive cost structure, but we have not yet fully explained our accelerated product plans," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said in an invitation to the event that was obtained by The Detroit News. "It's time to change that -- and to show our full team of employees and retirees how this transformation truly is product-led."
The move is part of a broader effort to communicate with employees and keep them informed as the company pursues a painful restructuring of its North American automobile business, said Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio.
The concept for the event evolved from employee focus groups that found workers didn't have confidence in Ford's product lineup. It's a view shared by many analysts, who have said Ford's restructuring plan lacks a steady rollout of innovative models.
Ford has previously hosted programs for workers and retirees that focused on the company's new brand strategy and the mechanics of its recovery plan, but this is the first time Ford has opened the door on future products, which automakers typically hold close to the vest to keep competitors in the dark.
In a nod to the risk of information leaking out to rivals, attendees will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement and will not be allowed to take pictures.
At Cobo, they will see most -- but not all -- of the vehicles Ford expects to have in its showrooms by 2010. Upcoming models and technologies will be presented through images, animations, short videos and actual vehicles.
"We've spent a lot of time during the past year talking about our new customer-focus," Susan Turner, Ford's human resources communications manager, said in the invitation. "Now, employees and retirees will not only see how that results in the new sheet metal, but they should walk away with a better understanding of how the business plan, brand plan and product development plan all come together."
Ford is offering six sessions and will provide employee shuttles and free parking passes. It is prepared to host nearly 25,000 employees and retirees.
Tatchio says the message is simple. "It's 'keep the faith,' but it's also about helping them understand why they should have faith," she said. Cecil Crider is one of the retired designers who received an invitation. Though the Calumet resident said the 600-mile journey to Detroit is too far for him to travel, he appreciates the offer.
Crider retired in 1993 after more than 38 years with Ford. The last vehicle he worked on was the 1994 Mustang. He is encouraged by Ford's new CEO, Alan Mulally, but believes the company could do better by returning to its roots.
"Years ago, Design Center used to be run by designers," Crider said. "Then they put the bean-counters in charge and let them make the decisions. You need bean-counters because this is a business and you have to be profitable. But you need to have people who know how to design designing."
Ford has vowed to unleash its designers. Fields put a renewed emphasis on design when he took over the Americas business a year ago. Many of the vehicles that will be displayed at the "Showroom" are the early fruits of that effort. Nonetheless, designers say compromises are still being made.
Frank Simons, who retired from the sales division, called the event "an expensive dog-and-pony show."
"This has not changed my mind about Ford, its sincerity or the ability of its leaders," Simons said. "I have seen too many false promises and the accompanying smoke and mirrors to accept anything but results."
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....