In between long stints behind the keyboard and the wheel of an Audi, I’ve been reading Robert Lacey’s epic Ford: The Men and the Machine. Catching up on the story of Ford, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Crazy Henry had somehow cheated death and was still around to witness the recent travails of his company. Ford’s deep commitment to basic transportation may have been a liability in the heyday of the American automobile, but things seem to be coming full circle. The decades of glamor and expression in automotive design and marketing launched GM to dizzying heights and threatened to leave stolid old Ford behind. But Ford never completely embraced the planned obsolescence and marketing-heavy development patterns that defined GM’s success. The Blue Oval’s best products always had a certain affordable and rugged charm that seems to be coming back in style. Ford now finds itself positioned to become the first American automaker with a lineup weighted towards competitive small and mid-sized cars. If it can succeed with this strategy and stay focused, Ford has a chance to reinterpret its original brand appeal and vindicate Henry Ford’s philosophy in a thoroughly 21st Century fashion.
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