william clay ford jr’s vision for the future

The New York Times has an article today on William Clay Ford Jr., and his work behind the scenes to transition the American automotive industry away from oil, and toward a more sustainable future. Here’s a clip:

…William C. Ford Jr., the executive chairman and scion of the founding family of the Ford Motor Company, has been preparing for a bigger role in the industry’s plan for survival.
While General Motors and Chrysler plead to Congress for a bailout, Mr. Ford has reached out to President-elect Barack Obama in hopes that his company can benefit from the administration’s longer-term strategies for the auto industry.

Mr. Ford has been working behind the scenes, meeting one-on-one with Mr. Obama in August, conferring with his senior economic advisers, and teaming up with Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan to push a vision of a leaner, greener auto industry.

With Detroit on the brink of disaster, the great-grandson of Henry Ford could play a critical role in how the Obama administration decides to assist the companies financially and shape broader energy policies…

It’s not mentioned in the article, but Ford, through the Detroit Economic Club, which he’s chairman of, is presently planning a “National Summit” on Technology, Energy, Environment and Manufacturing. The event, which is intended to bring together leaders from industry, government and academia, is scheduled too take place June 15-17 at Ford Field.

It doesn’t surprise me that he’s trying to bring everyone together like this. When I heard Ford speak in late 2007, he stressed that it had taken a meeting like this in Europe for all parties concerned to 1) decide that clean diesel would become the standard, and, then, 2) put incentives and infrastructure in place to make it happen. Clearly, Ford thinks it’s possible to do something similar here — to get all the vested parties together, and, for the sake of the country, to come to an agreement as to what America’s transportation future will look like… One just hopes that next June isn’t too far off.

Oh, one last thing that I found interesting… In the New York Times article, Ford points out that we’re woefully behind in our capacity to manufacture the kinds of battery systems that will be required by electric vehicles. Here’s a clip:

…”One of the things we need to sort out as a country is batteries,” Mr. Ford said. “We really don’t want to trade one foreign dependency, oil, for another foreign dependency, batteries.” The main producers of batteries are Asian manufacturers…

Ford, for what it’s worth, is also a proponent of a gas tax, or at least he was. Like David Cole, who I’ve quoted here before, he’s seen promising alternative energy projects scrapped in the past when the price of fuel dropped and he doesn’t want to see it happen again… One imagines both increased funding for next generation battery systems, and the setting of a floor on the price of gasoline will be among those things discussed in June.

update: Since I posted this a few days ago, the Detroit Economic Club has launched a website for the National Summit.

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15 Comments

  1. Deadhand
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Not only should we not become dependent on foreign batteries, but what about the resources they require?

    “Lithium-ion batteries require large amounts of cobalt, which comes primarily from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Tibet and Siberia. Easing dependence on foreign oil could mean increasing dependence on foreign minerals – from even less reliable trading partners than the Persian Gulf states.”

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97295913

  2. mark
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Yup.

    Thanks for the link, Dan.

  3. Posted November 25, 2008 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Bill Jr also has a good vision for the future of the Lions as he was able to convince his dad to fire Matt Millen.

  4. elviscostello
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    He was also the one who convinced his dad to hire Matt Millen…I wrote him once, as he had talked about having “Ford Blue Blood” running through his veins. I reminded him that there are generations of Ford Employees who have the same, they are the ones losing jobs due to stupid decisions like hiring Jac Nasser…never got a response.

  5. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    My former Detroit client’s keep saying they DO MAKE what America wants to buy … otherwise, why did they recently sell 15 million cars and trucks.

    The answer is that they do NOT build what Americans REALLY want, it was just so damn easy to finance their shit with easy credit terms that they pushed so much crap off the lots.

    If Americans really had to save to buy a new car as an important (granted depreciating) asset, I wonder what they’d actually buy.

    I hope to God the new government doesn’t go back to “easy” money for consumers or companies or banks.

    Rather, I’d like to see a challenge from the White House that rewards, among other innovations, mass transit proposals from the auto companies. We need a public policy that dis-incentivizes private transportation and rewards new transportation and energy ideas to help us become less drilling focused and more sun-energy oriented.

    Same companies, same suppliers, same factories, same personnel, same unions (maybe) … making different and more useful stuff, is all. ALL!!!!? It is the only way we can keep this planet habitable for chrissake!

  6. Posted November 25, 2008 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Most Americans prefer private transportation to public, don’t they? I don’t know how you change that.

  7. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Government challenges industry … like the challenge of sending a man to the moon … or the changeover to wartime footing. The incentives are there … for the taking.

    GM used to make diesel engines for trains … they made buses … and more. Johnson-Controls, who makes car interiors today, made interiors for passenger rail cars.

    The USA needs new roads and bridges, we also neeed new rail systems … cross country two-track high-speed rails, as well as a new generation of interurbans. Instead of big hunky bi-diesel buses inching their way around Ypsilanti’s streets, we need shuttles that connect out neighborhoods with terminals.

    We need solar and all of the other new technologies.

    We can’t tell industry what to do, but we can incentivize what we want done for whomever wants the challenge.

    The other ways to wean the USA off of personal transportation, other than nominally high interest rate loans … is the comvenience and cheap ticket prices for public transporatation. The Eastern corridor has had great rain mass transit for years. No reason why mid-western cities can’t do the same. Western cities and the large urban areas of Texas are ordering trams and interurbans as we speak. Those systems are all manufactured by foreign companies. I think only California has local content laws that has forced Seimens to build a factory in California to make train/tram cars … one of those western states, anyway.

    The other fast way to wean the USA off of personal cars/trucks as the main source of transportation is a minimum $4.00 per gallon price of fuel. (NYT/Tom Friedman’s idea) A permanent tax used to finance alternative energy solutions from solar to wind to mass transit.

    No more corn-based ethanol … which effectively drove up food prices like crazy these last several years.

    Just a few ideas, Cousin G. ….

  8. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    We have to change our attitudes as workers, too.

    Articles in Crains recently mentioned that 100’s of foreign companies are looking to take advantge of these hard times to locate plants here in the midwest.

    What’s killing the idea is the unionization. And here’s why.

    They are not anti union. These companies will gladly pay well. But they look at our labor force and make these assumptions:

    1 – The union burocracy in the plants has too many layers. Lots of union middle management just sitting around. No productivity there.

    2 – 85%-95% unskilled assembly labor getting high wages and benefits with no apparent technical skills. Repetitive work without skill or thought. They need higher skilled personnel.

    3 – Our skilled trades people are a dying breed. Assembly workers consistently turn down free training and advanced manufacturing classes in favor of staying on the line. As a result, our plants are being run by fewer and fewer experienced skilled trades people. And most of them want out. These are the people taking the buyouts.

    In contrast, in Europe the educational system and the unions are technically savy from the word go. These are literate, highly educated and highly skilled workers capable of transferring knowledge in one field to virtually any similar area. German metal workers have chemistry backgrounds and can work in any metal or alloy … or can quickly learn, because they have the background.

    Used to be that way here in the old days … when we had a large (trained) immigrant workforce … not anymore.

    So, how do we attract new companies to Michigan? Beats me.

  9. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Actually, what we’ve solidified over this last generation is systemic ignorance.

    In the plants, we’ve reduced each job to its most efficient denominator … this clip and this fastener, zip! Done!

    We have done the same at every job in America … from Lehman Brothers to Goldman Sachs. The simpltons who lied about the bonds they were selling were just making calls off of a list of clients and dumping CDOs, etc. and raking in incredible bonuses. They are gone now, of course.

    It’s a “No American Worker Left Behind” program. Any idiot can do this job … but it pays well.

    The tragedy is that we continue to create new generations of mono-thinkers with our “No Child Left Behind.”

    It may take us another 20-30 years to turn America’s workforce into what it was in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. And that STILL may not be enough to pull us through this century. The challenges to survive global warming are certain to be immense.

    I’ve said many times, I’d like to seee our new President reverse course and set a new direction in education: “No Child Left Unchallenged!” EVERY CHILD pushed to excel. To be the best he or she can be. From tested genius level to special ed kids … go for the personal best.

    Like Tom Friedman has said … if genius is one in a million, consider how many thousands of geniuses there are in China today.

    We are 300 million in America. We need every one of OUR 300 geniuses hard at work. And we neeeed every other one of us to seek excellence and to NOT be satisfied with an easy job, a boat, and an F-150. We have a job to do as a country. And it will take all of us.

  10. Posted November 26, 2008 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I always listen to what you have to say, eg. Great stuff.

  11. Posted November 26, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    check out “who killed the electric car” on netflix. the part about fuel cell vs. electric cars and CA’s ZEV legislation was particularly interesting.

    i’ve seen a Tesla car here in Menlo Park, and we passed by the dealership on the way to the skateshop. pretty amazing… and sad that they closed their Detroit office last month.

  12. mark
    Posted November 26, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know that Tesla closed their Detroit office. That’s symbolic. And depressing… And thanks for reminding me about “Who Killed.” I’ve been meaning to bump it up on my Netflix list.

  13. mark
    Posted November 26, 2008 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    And, for what it’s worth, I’m not convinced that Ford has a vision that might turn Detroit around. I don’t think he’s got “The Answer.” I just get the sense that he, perhaps more than anyone else in the Big Three, is willing to keep an open mind. But, then again, he did fight against stricter fuel economy measures up until now.

  14. mark
    Posted November 26, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Since I posted this a few days ago, the Detroit Economic Club has launched a website for the National Summit.

  15. mark
    Posted November 29, 2008 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    And, if you’ve got a second, click here for Henry Ford

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