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Is Ford Innovative?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 31, 2005

I opened my Wall Street Journal this morning (yes, I still do that) and there is a two-page ad spread with Bill Ford at a podium and his words on the page—“Innovation is our mission. The guiding compass of everything we do. Smarter, safer, more fuel efficient vehicles.”

OK. I like Ford. I drive the Ford Focus whenever I rent and when I need a smallish car. It’s zippy and fun to drive and handles well. I like the cross-over SUV Escape as well. I spent a month in Alaskan back-country driving around in it to do birding. These are both good products that speak well of the Ford brand. They work for Ford.

What doesn’t work for Ford are ads that sell the brand without the real product. That’s old-fashioned advertising that has less and less credibility. The current round of Ford ads—and I’ve seen Bill Ford speaking on innovation on TV as well—does the Ford brand a disservice. It’s not believable because Ford has lagged Toyota in car innovation for years and most people know it. The ad in the paper says “First SUV hybrid on the road today.” eclipse
Yep, it was the first but Ford had to license Toyota hybrid engine technology to do it. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it makes lots of sense to got outside your company for innovation. But going to Japan for hybrid technology proves my point. Ford spent many years making fat profits off of gas-guzzling SUVs that customers loved and not enough time investing in new technologies and innovation. Now it is getting hit by high gas prices and is striving to change the narrative of its company story. But you hurt your brand by promising customers something you can’t deliver. Toyota delivers a great product that defines the brand and spreads the message. Ford is spreading a message that lacks authenticity. Not good.

Reader Comments


October 31, 2005 6:26 PM

Sounds like you read the Brand Autopsy post making the rounds.

Tom Guarriello

November 1, 2005 1:28 AM

We've known for decades that "overpromise, underdeliver" is a really, really bad strategy.


November 1, 2005 2:41 PM

Bruce, given the lead times to get a new vehicle to market, you have to figure Ford started the Escape hybrid project not fewer than three years ago. It's not as if they knee-jerked after Katrina and put the vehicle on the showroom floor a week or two later.
I agree in a lot of ways the American auto industry lacks the kind of long-term thinking and investment it needs to stay healthy. But Bill Ford has been talking up environment sustainability for years, and putting his money where his mouth is by investing in more responsible power sources and facilities.
It's true Ford has made a lot of profit from large SUVs, putting wasteful vehicles on the road. And that's one thing I've always thought must be hard to square with his views. But to make a difference in environmental sustainability, Ford must remain a viable auto company. And to remain a viable auto company, every company needed to be in the SUV business for the past ten years-- and probably the next years to come as well. The biggest impact a car company could make would be to convert the most wasteful type of vehicles demanded by consumers into energy-efficient, reduced pollution vehicles. To do it, a car company has to be a competitor in those vehicle segments. It's nice to replace a Corolla with a Prius, but that's replacing a vehicle that's already relatively efficient.
I'd like to see EVERY product be more innovative and environmentally sustainable, and I'd like to see more truth in advertising. But I don't think Ford's record is as bad as you make it sound.


November 1, 2005 11:10 PM

G wrote: "But Bill Ford has been talking up environment sustainability for years, and putting his money where his mouth is by investing in more responsible power sources and facilities."

As little as I know about the goings-on in the automotive industry, I did recall quite a bit of news about Mr. Ford's interest in moving the company forward in what seemed to me were surprisingly innovative directions. Consequently, after initially reading this post I was wondering what had come of all those reports; but also how this entry would fare should some of the claims not be entirely accurate.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Bruce. Love the fireworks. :)

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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