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Ford CEO pushing speed to shake up automaker

  • Ford's new CEO Jim Hackett finds himself trying to refocus the automaker.
  • The idea of pushing speed makes sense since Ford finds itself playing catch up with new, as well as established competitors.
  • It's clear Hackett sees a company that is too slow in too many areas.

Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett
Rebecca Cook | Reuters
Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett

When former Ford CEO Alan Mulally took over the struggling automaker in 2006, he helped the company's management and workers zero in on their mission by repeatedly stressing, "One Ford."

Eleven years later Ford's new CEO, Jim Hackett, finds himself in a similar position, trying to refocus the automaker. He hasn't given a public name to his vision, but it might be "Ford, Move Faster."

"Ford works now, but it's from the past and likely won't work in the future," was how RBC Capital analyst Joe Spak summarized the viewpoint of Hackett after he and other analysts met with the CEO late this week.

"Mr. Hackett intends to unpack and accelerate Ford's pre-existing long-term strategy," wrote JPMorgan's Ryan Brinkman.

The idea of pushing speed makes sense since Ford finds itself playing catch up with new, as well as established, competitors.

Take General Motors, for instance. When the automaker rolled out new midsize pickup trucks in 2013, Ford executives privately dismissed the move. More than a few told me they thought the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon would have modest sales since the midsize truck market had collapsed.

Four years later, the Colorado and Canyon turned out to be hits for General Motors, with almost 150,000 pickups sold last year. While their combined sales lag the segment-leading Toyota Tacoma, GM has picked up valuable sales while Ford has been slow to respond. Earlier this year Ford finally announced it's bringing back the Ranger midsize pickup truck, with sales beginning in 2019.

Another example is Tesla. Despite growing sales showing there is a clear appetite for an all-electric car or SUV, Ford has been slow to respond. Unlike GM, which has invested heavily and promoted the Chevy Volt and Chevy Bolt, Ford's all-electric-car portfolio is limited. Yes, you can buy the Focus Electric, but rarely do you see any ads or features pushing that vehicle.

These, and other examples all point to Ford needing a reboot. It's not in danger of going bankrupt or even losing money in any given quarter. This is still a very profitable company.

But it's clear Hackett sees a company that is too slow in too many areas. That's one reason why Hackett is pushing the idea of a "shot clock" to force executives to make decisions quicker, much as a basketball team must try to score before the shot clock goes off, or it turns over the ball.

"Mr. Hackett acknowledged that past slow decision-making — sometimes caused by confusion over 'who is in charge' within newer efforts — has been an issue at Ford," said Citi analyst Itay Michaeli.

Watch: Ford plans to start importing Focus in 2019