Jim Farley is already being mythologized, Tesla says it isn’t racist, and Audi. All that and more in The Morning Shift for April 19, 2022.
1st Gear: Jim Farley
Last week, there was the following Bloomberg Businessweek cover, for an interview with Ford CEO Jim Farley:
This was fairly cringe, though that wasn’t Farley’s fault. Last week there was also this magazine cover, this time from Newsweek:
This week, we have a big story in The New York Times, which spent a lot of time with Farley on the premise that the new F-150 Lightning is something like a make-or-break situation for Ford. The article also portrays Farley as a sort of anti-Elon Musk. Farley is the relatable one, though still betting the farm, or so the story goes.
“The traditional auto industry is pretty far behind Tesla,” said Earl J. Hesterberg, chief executive of Group 1 Automotive, a large auto retailer, who has known Mr. Farley for two decades. “In the past, if you were behind by a few years, the big players could catch up. But today, the speed of change is so much greater.”
Auto experts say the electric F-150, known as the Lightning, must be a success if Ford is to thrive in the age of electric vehicles. Introducing this truck now is equivalent to “betting the company,” said William C. Ford Jr., the company’s executive chairman, who is a great-grandson of Henry Ford. “If this launch doesn’t go well, we can tarnish the entire franchise.”
The story also includes an anecdote about how Farley went to California several times and had a revelation. Perhaps this was a Don Draper situation.
In the last few years, Mr. Farley re-evaluated Ford’s strategy, visited technology companies in California and came to a realization: “They’re after our customers.”
In 2018, Ford’s brain trust saw that the company was at great risk of falling behind Tesla, G.M. and Rivian in electric cars and pickup trucks. Ford decided not to build a new electric truck and its batteries from scratch as other automakers were doing, but to modify an existing F-150, buying batteries designed by a supplier. The move was risky because converting traditional vehicles to battery-powered ones can be difficult — batteries weigh more than engines and are placed under the floor rather than under the front hood.
“We didn’t know how this would turn out, but we knew there would be a heavy penalty if we didn’t swing for the fences,” Mr. Farley said.
Viewing the decision to cobble together an electric pickup from an existing platform as “risky” when it is the go-to move for low-volume “compliance cars” built to satisfy regulations is funny. I can’t think of a single case when a compliance-style EV has outsold an EV built on a dedicated platform, certainly within the era of Tesla.
Finally, the story also includes a scene where Jim Farley walks the assembly line and is treated like a rock star, which, frankly, is a bit over the top.
Bill Dorley, the box team leader, told Mr. Farley that his crew was practically ready to go. “We just need parts,” he said.
Just outside that section of the plant, heavy earth-moving machines were demolishing the concrete walls and floors of a building that was built in the 1930s to produce the Ford Model A. That space will allow the company to expand Lightning production.
As Mr. Farley moved along the assembly line, workers waved and shouted greetings and sought selfies with the boss.
The New York Times reporter also rode in an F-150 Lightning with Farley as he floored it, and he also had dinner with him, because getting a nice story written about you in The New York Times is a feather in one’s cap. Same goes for Bloomberg and Newsweek, I guess, though none of these stories happen by accident, and I’m sure Ford’s PR team has spent the last couple weeks feeling pretty pleased with themselves.
What I don’t quite understand is what Ford thinks it’s accomplishing, aside from (perhaps) a temporary increase in Ford’s stock price and perhaps a few more F-150 Lightning sales, because stories like this only heighten expectations, which probably won’t be met anyway after the F-150 Lightning comes out and sales are tiny compared to the gas F-150, and everyone asks what it means.
I can say with certainty, though, that having dinner with a New York Times reporter is one of the dullest experiences I can imagine, having been there way too many times. Give me a call, Jim, and let’s have dinner proper, not for a story or anything, just because life is too short to have dinner with a New York Times reporter.
2nd Gear: Tesla Mad About Being Called Racist
A state agency in California recently filed suit against Tesla for racism, which Tesla said Monday was simply an effort by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to make the papers.
Bloomberg has the latest:
Monday’s filing by the world’s largest electric-vehicle maker asks a judge to pause a lawsuit filed in February by the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The agency alleged that Tesla turned a blind eye to years of complaints about racial slurs on the assembly line at its plant in Fremont, Calif., where 20,000 people work.
“DFEH conducted a bare bones ‘investigation’ without interviewing key witnesses, requesting key documents, or ever stepping foot in the Fremont facility,” Tesla said in the filing in state court in Oakland.
The agency has been roiled by controversy of late. Its assistant chief counsel recently resigned to protest what she said was the abrupt firing of her boss by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The lawyer accused Newsom of interfering with the agency’s discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard Inc. — a claim Newsom’s office said is “categorically false.”
DFEH representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
All I will say is that if you are in a position of having to deny that you are racist, then something has gone very wrong.
3rd Gear: Urbansphere
Here are two pictures of a new Audi concept, which it is calling the Urbansphere:
The car is intended for “Chinese megacities.” It is a fairly straightforward thing, the kind of car that we will see more and more of: an office on wheels, a party on wheels, a bed on wheels, an anything-you-want on wheels, because the car is supposed to drive itself and by virtue of that you don’t care about sitting in traffic anymore.
“In order to meet the demands of our Chinese customers, Audi’s design studios in Beijing and Ingolstadt worked together closely to jointly develop the Audi urbansphere concept car,” says Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board Management at AUDI AG and responsible for the Chinese market. For the first time, potential customers in China could also take part in the development process, contributing their own desires and perspectives as part of a process known as “co-creation”.
The result can be seen in the Audi urbansphere concept and its particularly striking interior. The spacious automobile acts as a lounge on wheels and a mobile office, serving as a third living space during the time spent in traffic. To this end, the Audi urbansphere combines the luxury of complete privacy with a comprehensive range of high-tech features on board, even during the daily rush hour. Automated driving technology transforms the interior, in which a steering wheel, pedals, or displays are notably absent, into a mobile interactive space that provides a gateway to a wider digital ecosystem.
Wake me up when these things move past the concept stage.
4th Gear: Stellantis Stopping In Russia
Russia has started a war with Ukraine for no good reason and the consequences, such as they are, continue to pile up. On Tuesday, Stellantis said it would be halting production in Russia, though not for any noble reason, really, but because of supply chain difficulties and sanctions.
Also, Stellantis doesn’t have much of the Russian market to begin with.
The world’s fourth-largest automaker, which produced and sold the Peugeot, Citroёn, Opel, Jeep, and Fiat brands in Russia, has just 1% of the country’s car market.
It runs a van-making plant in Kaluga, around 125 miles (201 kilometres) south-east of Moscow, co-owned with Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi, which halted production at the facility earlier this month.
“Given the rapid daily increase in cross sanctions and logistical difficulties, Stellantis has suspended its manufacturing operations in Kaluga to ensure full compliance with all cross sanctions and to protect its employees,” Stellantis said in a statement.
The plant employs 2,700 people.
5th Gear: No More Masks In Ubers
Uber Technologies (UBER.N) has scrapped mandatory face masks for its riders and drivers in the United States, the ride-hailing company said on Tuesday, adding that riders have the option to cancel their trip if they feel uncomfortable with its move.
The company introduced mask mandates for its drivers, riders and delivery workers around the world in May 2020 as COVID-19 cases rose.
Uber added that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a mask if a person has certain high-risk factors or if transmission levels are high in their area.
The company said in November it was resuming shared rides, which had been suspended due to rising COVID cases.
This feels like a bit of a watershed moment for going mask-free, not just Uber but the airlines, too. Well, you know, for those of us that gave a shit to begin with. There are places on the East Coast that have already been mask free for months because the vaccination rates are so high and cases are down. There are places in Middle America that never bothered to mask to begin with. Out West, it is a weird mix of both.
Reverse: Running Is Transportation Too
The winner finished just under three hours, while the winner in yesterday’s Boston Marathon won in just over two hours. For context, any marathon time under four hours is pretty impressive, though it’s incredible to see how far runners have come:
On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York won the first Boston Marathon with a time of 2:55:10.
The Boston Marathon was the brainchild of Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic team manager John Graham, who was inspired by the marathon at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. With the assistance of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered, before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from the Irvington Oval in Boston to Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland was eventually selected.
Fifteen runners started the race but only 10 made it to the finish line. John J. McDermott, representing the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City, took the lead from Harvard athlete Dick Grant over the hills in Newton. Although he walked several times during the final miles, McDermott still won by a comfortable six-minute, fifty-two-seconds. McDermott had won the only other marathon on U.S. soil the previous October in New York.
Neutral: How Are You?
I only wear my mask now in my building’s common areas, and also the subway, though that latter one I guess isn’t even a mandate anymore? I can’t tell what the rules are anymore, and it seems that everyone is caring less and less. From here we go with God.