By on April 10, 2019

Image: Ford

The self-driving vehicles that will one day make our lives better — or more sterile and unenjoyable — will still pour forth from a future Michigan assembly plant starting in 2021, Ford CEO Jim Hackett claims, but don’t expect an instant deluge of AVs.

In a wide-ranging talk at a Detroit Economic Club event Tuesday, Hackett poured cold water over the industry’s once red-hot predictions that steering wheels will soon be as outdated as the hand-cranked starter. He also did something that’s become old hat for the CEO: Hackett appealed for the public’s trust in his vision, then went about envisioning everything.

Spending a significant amount of time reminiscing about his stints at the University of Michigan and Steelcase, Hackett ultimately pivoted to his current role — one he said someone else could probably do better. That’s apparently what he told Bill Ford Jr. when the company chairman approached him for the job.

“I thought there were better people to run Ford Motor Co.,” Hackett said. “And I asked Bill to think about it when he asked me. He did.”

He’s anything if not candid. During the moderated talk, Hackett tossed out such personal nuggets as his favorite song (Neil Young’s Old Man, though many who’ve sat through his cerebral talks might say After the Gold Rush is a more appropriate track), and the person he’d most like to have lunch with (Martin Luther King Jr.). But what about those autonomous vehicles?

“We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” he said. Though Ford’s first self-driving car is still scheduled to arrive in 2021, “its applications will be narrow, what we call geo-fenced, because the problem is so complex,” he added.

The laundry list of unforeseen issues encountered during early testing of AVs over the past couple of years has provided the industry with a much-needed wakeup call, cooling much of the overblown predictions associated with the tech. Still, Hackett views it as the future — one that will happen.

“When we break through, it will change the way your toothpaste is delivered,” Hackett said. “Logistics and ride structures and cities all get redesigned. I won’t be in charge of Ford when this is going on, but I see it clearly.”

In its recent plant investment announcement, Ford punted future AV production from its Flat Rock assembly plant to “a new AV manufacturing center in southeast Michigan.” The company describes the first vehicle to roll out of the plant as “purpose-built, commercial-grade hybrid vehicles with self-driving technology and unique interiors.”

Ford has little thought of embarking on this venture alone. “There’s probably going to be alliance partners that we haven’t announced yet that will make it more certain that we don’t take on all the risks ourselves financially,” Hackett said.

Bringing things back to the present and very near term, Hackett dared a recession to happen, claiming a less-bloated Ford is ready for one. The automaker’s $11 billion restructuring plan is already being felt, with recent workforce and production cuts announced overseas. This year will see the axe come to North America’s white-collar workforce.

For impatient types watching from Wall Street, Hackett offered a now-familiar refrain:

“We’re turning the corner. Just trust me on this. You’re going to read a lot on Ford performance.”

[Source: Bloomberg, Detroit Free Press] [Image: Ford]

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12 Comments on “Jim Hackett Throttles Back on Self-driving Car Hype, Dares a Recession to Happen...”

  • avatar

    Well… now we KNOW another recession is coming. Ford has challenged the world.

  • avatar

    It’s cute when he talks like he knows anything about the automotive world.

    Stick to your area of expertise Jimbo. Talk about file cabinets and desks.

  • avatar

    I don’t see him at the helm next spring.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Someone here predicted that Mr Hackett will be out by the end of the year. This story reinforces that prediction.

    • 0 avatar

      why? IMO it’s just being realistic. Mass shift to EVs and mass adoption of autonomous cars are both a LOT further in the future than the cheerleaders want to admit. Anyone who believes otherwise has just been hooked by Elon Musk’s bluster.

  • avatar

    Hackett stated, “We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.”
    Why not concentrate on the present, by building a class leading mid size sedan?

    • 0 avatar

      why, for you to still not buy?

      Companies exist to make money selling things profitably to people who actually buy stuff. They’re not obligated to lose money making things just for you to argue about on the Internet.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Are sedans really the present? That’s like a class leading midsized wagon in the mid 90’s, or sinking a ton into replacing the Crown Victoria.

  • avatar

    All that Ford brilliance is intimidating.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    He’s got the best job in the world right now.Low expectations, and no shame when he eventually gets fired.No one expects Ford to succeed. He’ll gladly take his severance and retire to Palm Desert in 2-3 years or so.

  • avatar

    What a dolt.

  • avatar

    My neighbor retired in December, and was a lifelong Ford employee ( at the mid /upper management level for last couple decades ). He commented that management at his level don’t like Hackett at all, due to his lack of knowledge of the industry along with his style. ( I know that is easy to say, that you “don’t like the big boss”, but he said it was basically a consensus. ) Ultimately Hackett currently has Bill Ford Jr’s support, but at some point you have to wonder if Bill Ford Jr. will listen to his middle management level that basically make things happen” at Ford..

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