Ford Board to Grill Fields on Mobility Strategy After a Sucky First Quarter

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The board of directors at Ford Motor Company will be seeking answers from CEO Mark Fields on how the brand’s mobility strategy played a role in its lackluster annual earnings report. Inside sources claim board members made extra time leading up to Thursday’s annual shareholders meeting to discuss the company’s future with the CEO.

Fields has promoted Ford’s evolution into a mobility company ever since taking the helm in 2014 — something investors haven’t been particularly receptive of. During Fields’ tenure as CEO, shares in the company have fallen by 35 percent. However, with tech-focused companies typically receiving above-average valuations, the methodology behind his strategy appears sound. Ford has spent billions on the development of autonomous technology and showcased mobility concepts that even Tesla hasn’t bothered with.

While many seem too impractical or far-fetched to deserve serious attention, the capital behind its self-driving efforts have kept Ford near the front of the pack in the autonomous race. So, what’s the problem?

That’s what the board is hoping to find out. Ford splitting its role as a traditional automaker and ultra-modern mobility company could be part of the problem. First quarter earnings fell 42 percent in the first quarter, while General Motors has seen comparatively stable profits. However, GM is also playing the mobility game — just not quite as loudly as Ford. General Motors has also focused more on its current product and distribution than the Blue Oval. It has fielded more purpose-built EVs and dominates the domestic SUV market, giving it an advantage.

“GM has been a bit more aggressive in pure electric cars and on car-sharing and ride-hailing with their investment in Lyft,” said David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar Inc.

Meanwhile, Ford is attempting to hold its ground while looking further into the future. “We’re having one foot in today and one foot in tomorrow,” Fields told Bloomberg in April.

Still, focusing so heavily on the future doesn’t seem to be helping the Ford of today. The company almost appears to be setting itself up for success ten years from now at the expense of the next three. It’s uncharacteristic of a century-old automaker and not everyone has been receptive, investors least of all.

“This is the first public sign that the board is becoming impatient,” Whiston said. “It’s likely proof that the board is frustrated with the stock price languishing for the past several years. It may be a grilling session for Mark.”

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Bikegoesbaa Bikegoesbaa on May 10, 2017

    Equivalent headline from 1907: "Amalgamated Buggywhip and Bridle Company board questions CEO for questionable 'horseless carriage' ventures"

  • Zip89123 Zip89123 on May 11, 2017

    While I wouldn't call it a mobility issue, the Escape would greatly benefit if it had the Fusion's hybrid drivetrain.

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
  • Susan O’Neil There is a good reason to keep the Chevrolet Malibu and other 4 door family sedans! You can transport your parents and other somewhat handicapped people comfortably and safety! If someone can stand and pivot you can put them in your car. An armrest in the back seat is appreciated and a handle above the door! Oh…and leather seats so your passenger can slide across the seat! 😊Plus, you can place a full sized wheelchair or walker in the trunk! The car sits a little lower…so it’s doable! I currently have a Ford Fusion and we have a Honda Accord. Our previous cars were Mercury Sables-excellent for transporting handicapped people and equipment! As the population ages-sedans are a very practical choice! POV from a retired handicapped advocate and daughter! 😊
  • Freddie Remember those ads that say "Call your doctor if you still have...after four hours"?You don't need to call your doctor, just get behind the wheel of a CUV. In fact, just look at one.I'm a car guy with finite resources; I can't afford a practical car during the week plus a fun car on the weekend. My solution is my Honda Civic Si 4 door sedan. Maybe yours is a Dodge Charger (a lot of new Chargers are still on dealer lots).
  • Daniel J Interesting in that we have several weeks where the temperature stays below 45 but all weather tires can't be found in a shop anywhere. I guess all seasons are "good enough".
  • Steve Biro For all the talk about sedans vs CUVs and SUVs, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any modern vehicle. And I know it’s only going to get worse.