Thursday, November 24, 2005

Someone Forgot to Tell Bill Ford

When Dick Cheney had all the big oil honchos in to divide up the spoils of energy policy, someone forgot to tell William Clay Ford, the family scion, CEO and largest private shareholder of Ford Motor Company.


Williamclayford_1Following a speech at the National Press Club yesterday, Ford expected to meet with White House neocon econs, including a guy by the name of Allan Hubbard, the White House adviser on economic policy. Can you believe they actually have an advisor? An actual policy? Anyway, Bill wants to plan a summit on energy issues that he said the White House has agreed to hold.


I don’t know how to break this to you, Bill, but Dick Cheney already had that meeting three years or so ago and apparently your invitation got lost in the mail. Dick was meeting with the other end of the snake, the oil production end and somehow he must have lost all sight of you consumer-related guys. He knew you were getting your collective asses kicked by Japan again, but it just seemed like such old news. Cripes, Dick was working for that other Dick (the tricky one) back in those bad old days, the beginning of the end days for America’s auto industry.


At the Press Club, Ford asked for more incentives. I guess he somehow feels it’s not incentive enough to run and pretty much own one of the world’s largest auto manufacturers. There wasn’t sufficient incentive to stick his head outside the family mansion, wet his finger and see which way the global auto business was blowing thirty years ago . . . back when there was still time to change course. Back when Ford bonds didn’t carry a ‘junk’ rating. 


If he could somehow claw his way back to that energy summit of Dick Cheney's that he wasn’t at, maybe he could talk the VP into tax credits to prod consumers to buy hybrids and other vehicles with fuel-saving technology. That's what he proposes. Funny thing is, Toyota didn’t need tax credits to sell out their entire year's production of the Prius. Consumers flocked to pay a premium for the car and they seem to love driving it. No rebates in the Prius showrooms.


He also asked Congress (from the Press Club podium) for money to retrain workers, and to wheedle out some tax incentives to help manufacturers outfit old plants with new equipment. Hey Bill, that’s what ‘depreciation’ is supposed to be for in the heavy industries, they already gave you a tax credit for that. Ford said a national strategy is needed to respond to the pressures of globalization, which he called the "economic challenge of our time."


Well, heck. I guess by our, he meant the auto makers' time. The econimic challenge of the steel makers time and the garment-workers time and a whole list of other manufacturers' time must have slipped Bill's notice during their particularly challenging decades.


If the Ford Motor Company is feeling the pressures of globalization, what does it mean that it also owns Aston Martin, Jaguar, Volvo, Mazda and Land Rover? That’s not global enough? Those acquisitions, made with such fanfare, have suddenly turned into the economic challenge of our time? My own personal view is that Ford’s economic challenges accrue to thirty years with their head in the sand on union issues, modernization and (by far the most importantly) totally missing and insisting on continuing to miss the emerging market.


FordequatorconceptFord's 'back to the future' is 400 hp muscle cars.


I understand that it hurts to lose the family jewels on your watch. I once did the same on a microscopically smaller scale, but it hurt a lot anyway. I also understand (unlike my case) that many of the hubris-induced decisions that put Ford where it now finds itself, were not made when William Clay Ford had anything to say about anything. It was a tattered and precarious legacy by the time he got his hands on it.


But an energy summit isn’t likely to help, Bill. Your timing right now could hardly be worse, with the Republicans having their own family fight at the moment, the President out of sorts, the Vice President a breath away from possible indictment and the Abramoff affair distracting Congress. This administration can’t even help New Orleans, ten weeks after promising the world from Jackson Square.


The creek is dry, Bill and it seems your guys, politically and in business, drained it.
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See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.