Bill Ford: Washington standoff is bad for business

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Daniel Howes, columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News, left, and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. discuss the future of mobility at Cobo Center, in Detroit Thursday during 'The Final Word.'

Detroit — The ongoing standoff between President Donald Trump and Congress is creating a lot of uncertainty for U.S. businesses, according to Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

"The climate in Washington is such that there's very little civility, and there's very little getting accomplished," Bill Ford said. "That makes it hard for businesses to operate. Not just Ford, but any business, because we make decisions and they are billion-dollar decisions-plus... and we're doing it now kind of flying blind."

Bill Ford sat down with Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes for a wide-ranging, fireside-style chat during The Final Word event Thursday at the North American International Auto Show.

The two talked about the changes the industry is facing; Ford's recent investments and decisions to ax sedan models from the lineup; how he plans to get the automaker ready for a new industry; and the global and political uncertainty facing automakers.

At Ford, CEO Jim Hackett and his executive team are battling growing trade and commodity headwinds as they cut $25.5 billion in costs, attempt to restructure the global business model and get the right talent into the company so the company can be successful in the future. Bill Ford said Thursday that he has no clarity on how Trump's looming tariffs might shake out.

"We're trying to get our house in order so that we can get through any economic downturn and continue to invest in great products and new technology," Bill Ford said. "Every year is uncertain... Having said that, there is a lot of uncertainty going into this year.

"There is very little clarity as we go into the year. There really is no certainty right now."

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During the preview days of the North American International Auto Show, the automaker revealed a 700-plus horsepower Shelby Mustang GT500 and the all-new 2020 Explorer and its variants — the Explorer ST and hybrid.

The automaker also announced an agreement with Germany's Volkswagen AG to partner on commercial vans and midsize pickup trucks to be sold outside of North America.The partnership is aimed at boosting Ford's European business, in part. 

Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets, also took time to outline the company's strategy for its first fully battery-powered vehicle, which is to be launched next year. Farley also said the automaker intends to electrify its popular F-Series of trucks, both battery-electric and hybrid, as well as its Transit van models. Farley did not offer a time frame for that, however. 

Meantime, the automaker enters 2019 expecting better financial results and with a full hopper of new vehicle announcements and launches planned. Ford's midsize Ranger returned to showrooms this month. The all-new Aviator is on the way. The automaker also plans to launch its redesigned Explorer, all-new Escape and new Super Duty this year ahead of continued launches in 2020, which will include the long-awaited Bronco.

Bill Ford said while 2018 was a year for the automaker to begin rebuilding and preparing itself for the future, 2019 will begin to show results. Ford stock has languished on Wall Street over the past year as investors repeatedly ding the company for failing to give the type of clarity they want on future plans.

"The shiny new thing, and everybody loves the shiny new thing, is not a 115-year-old company," Bill Ford said. "But the fact is we're actually making ourselves into the shiny new thing, and some people are starting to pay attention. As we get through this year, people will start to really understand what this is all about."