Much as reviewers and consumers have embraced the products that Ford Motor Co. has introduced under Alan Mullaly’s leadership, as well as embracing Mr. Mullaly’s public image as the most competent auto executive currently in charge of a Detroit based car company, there has been almost uniform criticism outside of FoMoCo for the company’s headfirst plunge into digital infotainment and control.
Hooking up with Microsoft, Ford felt that it was beating the industry to the punch when they first introduced their Sync system, followed by the even more ambitious My Ford Touch interface and a comparable Lincoln branded system. Consumers, with a small c, have expressed frustration with the system, prompting Ford to allocate funds for dealer training on MFT, along with FoMoCo issuing needed software upgrades. “Consumers” with a capital C, as in Consumer Reports, has consistently panned Ford’s infotainment interface, first dinging them on reliability for user frustration with MFT and now saying that the system “stinks”. It’s possible that by trying to be ahead of the industry Ford went a bridge too far. Ironically, that decision might be traced back to the general in charge, everyone’s fair haired boy Al.
It might be a Yogi Berraism, but you can really see a lot just by looking. Bertel Schmitt’s posts on the Chief Engineers in charge of Toyota vehicle programs might give you a clue as to their role and status in Toyota City and the fact that it’s the Chief Engineers who are asked to stand up at new vehicle introductions hammers home the point. When Ford introduced My Ford Touch at the 2010 NAIAS, after the speeches were over journalists and photographers were swarming on the stage looking for quotes and photos. I noticed a young Ford engineer, one of the guys working on the My Ford Touch program. The fact that he was there on stage meant that he’d indeed had a significant role. It must have been a big day for him because his parents were there and I watched as he introduced them to his big boss, Mullaly. Mullaly appears to be a remarkable manager of people. When you talk to folks at Ford there’s a respect and loyalty you sense employees have for their boss. At this year’s NAIAS the Ford presser was held in the round, in Coba Arena, with three camera operators at floor level to cover all the angles. When Mullaly’s part of the event was over and he walked off stage, I saw him stop to thank one of the cameramen and pat him on the shoulder.
When talking to Ralph Gilles, I get the impression that he’d rather that Chrysler be independent of Fiat (it’s nothing he’s said, that’s just my impression) but I also have the feeling that he has a lot of respect for Sergio Marchionne. That’s not a vibe that I get off of GM personnel about Dan Akerson. While GM folks seem ambivalent or indifferent about their boss and while Chrysler folks indeed seem to be loyal to Sergio, at Ford they really, really like their boss. So it made sense when most of the reporters were done with their questions for that young engineer to want to introduce his parents to Mullaly. The parents beamed as Mullaly went on and on about what an important role their son had at Ford. Sure it was PR, but there was genuine enthusiasm in his voice. After that little human scene, I got a chance to ask the Ford CEO a question.
Before running Ford, Mullaly headed the Boeing corporation after first being in charge of their aerospace and defense operations. I asked him to compare the level of technology at Ford to what was used at Boeing, which uses many advanced and sophisticated technologies. Of couse Mullaly used the question as an opportunity to sell My Ford Touch, a main talking point that day. He said that at Boeing he was in charge of the design of the first all digital flight deck. Their job was to take a large amount of information and be able to present it to the pilots in a manner that made their jobs easier and safer, and that’s what Ford was trying to do with My Ford Touch. He may have been blowing smoke but there was, again, a boyish enthusiasm in his voice. I came away from that interaction understanding exactly why Ford has gone all in on MFT – the big boss likes it. He’s an engineer by training who has designed digital cockpits of jet airliners. Of course he’d like a digitally based techie driver infotainment system.
One thing Mr. Mullaly is credited with as a drastic improvement in the corporate culture at the Glass House in Dearborn has been getting rid of the political back-stabbing that resulted from fiefdoms in the company. Decisions since Mullaly took over have seemed to based on reason and logic, with One Ford being the primary example. It would be genuinely ironic, because Alan Mullaly indeed seems to be one of the more competent auto executives in memory, if engineers within Ford are reluctant to criticize My Ford Touch because it’s a pet project of their big boss.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS