As much as these are trying times for Toyota Motor Company, they are especially good times for Ford Motor Company. Whereas one year ago the opposite might have been the case, the winds of change have blown. In fact, they’ve nearly flip-flopped two companies in transition.
In November, Motor Trend magazine awarded the 2010 Fusion their Car of the Year honor. During January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the company learned it won both the North American Car and Truck of The Year with the Fusion and Transit Connect. Then, most recently, Ford Motor Company posted a small profit.
While there are few links between the two companies that point to why one’s on the up and one’s having troubles, there is one interesting person who slipped out of Toyota and into Ford: Jim Farley.
Much credit for the turnaround that stopped the hemorrhaging of red ink and the lay offs of auto workers goes to Ford’s new president and CEO, Alan Mulally. But we point to Jim Farley, fresh off a successful stint at Toyota, as being another key to the Blue Oval’s good run.
Many industry insiders cite Farley as an important contributor to Toyota’s successful expansion over the past decade. During his 17 years with Toyota, Farley held critical positions such as General Manager of Lexus (Mulally drove a Lexus when he hired in at Ford), National Advertising Manager, and Corporate Manager of Scion. At Ford, Farley acts as Group Vice President, Global Marketing. His responsibilities include overseeing all marketing and advertising for North and South America.
An honest look at the situation reveals that Farley didn’t need to leave Toyota or his sunny home in Santa Monica, California. He chose to move to Michigan — a deeply depressed state that’s meteorologically one of the cloudiest in the Union — to go to work for a troubled company in a struggling sector of the economy. Plenty of industry watchers wondered, “Is Jim Farley nuts?”
Farley talked to AOL Autos recently to share his views on Ford, his departure from Toyota and where he sees the company’s marketing headed.
Q: Are you happy you left Toyota?
A: “To be a part of the group that — even for a short time — is helping transform Ford into an exciting, vibrant entity, is for me a tremendous responsibility. I actually feel more emotionally connected than when I worked for Toyota. Certainly it was exciting working for Toyota and helping it become what it has, but this is different.
Now, my work is something I believe to be important. It’s different than just making great cars even. Ford is a social institution. It’s people. It’s a historical institution for our country. It’s not a job. It’s something more than that. So, I can say I’m happy I left Toyota. Yeah.”
Q: What contributes to your view of Ford?
A: “My grandfather was 380th employee of [Ford Motor Company]. Even though he never went past the fourth grade, his children and their kids all went to college because of Ford. My grandfather worked at The Rouge Plant, and when I walk in there now, I think of him. And mine is not a unique story. Not in this town. I have this historical connection to the company.”
Q: Are you a “car guy?”
A: “Yeah, I’m actually a car freak, which is usually not a good thing in our industry. It can mean that you get infatuated with big engines and performance, and that you don’t love minivans or crossovers. I think what makes me unique is that I’m a car guy who is also an advocate for customers. I can like what they like from their point of view. For instance, I love our Transit Connect. I see what customers love about that van the same way I see what enthusiasts love in a Mustang. So I guess I’m a different kind of car guy. Maybe a little more complex car guy.
“My love for cars extends to car photography. I have a big collection of black and white photographs from Jesse Alexander and Phil Hill. And I also collect stock certificates of bankrupt car companies like Hudson, Studebaker and St. Clair, and all sorts of wacky things like that.
“I do own a couple cars. I’ve gotten to a secure point in my life where my collection is pretty stable. One is an original Shelby Cobra, serial number CSX2521 that I’ve owned for about 15 years. It’s just a 289 V-8, but it’s so fun to drive, really well balanced. Another is my primer-gray ’34 Ford five-window coupe that I bought from Ken Gross (journalist and director of the Peterson Auto Museum). I re-engineered it to accept a five-speed manual transmission and put a supercharger on the flathead. It’s a very traditional fendered hot rod that I hope to give to my son one day. I don’t think I’ll ever sell these two.”
Q: Do you see Ford doing more social media marketing as they did with The Fiesta Movement?
A: “The idea of giving someone a product and then letting them use social media for them to broadcast their experience is positive compared to the company doing it. This kind of thing isn’t new. Back in the 1960s, GM’s John DeLorean was giving away Pontiacs so people would talk about them. We’ve just put a new, more modern spin on it. I think that social media is a credible way to spread the story of what we’re doing.”
Speaking with Jim Farley helps one understand part of what’s behind Ford’s resurgence. While Farley’s departure from Toyota isn’t to blame for their troubles (and, not surprisingly, Ford isn’t keen on commenting on their troubles right now), we know that that Toyota wishes they had Farley to help them through their issues today.
Ford is now building vehicles the market wants. And that’s the point of being in the business.