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Ford Was Unprepared for Investor Revolt and C.E.O. Change (nytimes.com)
77 points by JumpCrisscross on May 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

From my reading, they still have the dual share class right? It just gave them an understanding that many people did not like how it was being managed?


Ford's main problem is playing it too safe. They are making gobs of money doing it, but it's hard to see the future. I don't know if they'll have a place in an electrified world, nor how well their self driving vehicle division is doing.

I'm still standing on the sidelines over electric cars.

I don't think Tesla has proven this to be a mass market product. Yes, its quite attractive to those who live in urban areas, but its not at the level of development (or practicality) to make it attractive to most of the car buying public.

I drive a whole lot, and most of the places I want/need to go, charging my car is not yet a practical option, I feel Electric Cars will not be practical for a majority of motorist until you can see s 350-450 mile range on them. So while its good to be an early adopter, often (most often) the late entrant is the one that owns the market, not the first to arrive.

Another big thing I think that has not been mentioned is that a lot of people live in apartments and don't have garages or anywhere to charge their car.

Imagine having to plan a trip to a local charging station every day or two and wait 40 mins to charge your car.

Trigger warning: Anecdotal evidence :)

Where people live in apartments (usually in cities), there frequently are too few parking spots anyway, so a lot of people use public transit. Those people at my office who commute in by car do so because they live in villages where public transit connections are too seldom to be reliable. Those who live in the city commute by tram.

Street-side and apartment complex chargers are amenities that are already showing up in cities. If the pace of electric car sales increases, I'd expect that to also increase.

Work parking lot charging is also an amenity with increasing prevalence and it certainly is possible that a person that owns a car primarily for a work commute will have plenty of opportunities to charge their car in the 40+ hours a week their car is supposed to be sitting in a work parking lot.

Chevy Volt could be a great option. One of my coworker has a first gen model and while the autonomy on battery is not that great, gas consumption is low a 3L/100 km.

I am curious where do you live and what's your commute were Tesla is not viable. I have a Tesla and have driven 12,000 miles all over California. Never been an issue with charging. The 100D can do over 300 miles on a single charge. So curious about your situation.

The 100D is pretty clearly not a mass market product.

I guess it is close to the average price of new vehicles sales, but I think even $35,000-$40,000 is pushing it, especially when that range is going to be closer to 250 miles than to 400 miles.

I live in the eastern Seattle suburbs currently, but I have lived other places. In a previous life, it was not unusual for me to drive 300+ miles a day.

A larger issue (for me, and I suspect others) is; Where would I charge it? my apartment complex doesn't have charging facilities, neither does my work - and the nearest supercharger is 20 miles away from me. In short, the 'fuel' delivery network is missing for me.

Yes electric vehicles are a status symbol for home owners.

My apartment complex has chargers, and in some places there are chargers along the street. As time goes on both of these are going to become more popular, but you can be sure that people who don't have a charger available will still be coming to HN to post in every electric car thread about how they don't have a charger.

Ford sells more F150s in a year then Tesla has sold vehicles total since they started.

How easy do you think it will be to find charging stations when there are 50x as many electric cars?

How many extra 500A 240V circuits will the grid of a city need to support for that many charging stations?

Wait why wouldn't Ford (or really any automaker) be able to make electrics cars?

With the level of outsourcing and specialization that has gone on, most car manufacturers are evidently not really car manufacturers anymore, but actually internal combustion engine manufacturers and assembly line operators. They just pay other companies to make most of the parts for them and keep the engine in house as their "secret sauce", as a technology that can't easily be copied.

Likewise, Tesla isn't really an electric car company or even an electric motor company. Electric motors are something everyone's known how to make for a hundred years and they actually get a lot of their generic car bits like their interiors from the same companies who supply traditional car companies. Tesla's actually a battery pack company (this is why the PowerPack and the SolarCity merger makes sense). It's the knowledge and the experience that went into those packs that keeps other companies from easily copying Tesla.

The problem Ford and any traditional automaker faces is somehow pivoting from their current secret sauce, which took them decades and billions of dollars to develop, to a new one in a field that's completely unrelated, where almost nothing they already know applies.

That last sentence is money.

For the first time I heard a car company CEO actually get that Tesla is different. The CEO of Toyota made a comment that what Tesla builds is more akin to the iPhone than a car.

And he's right. Tesla builds a computer that happens to use a very large battery, weighs about 4,000 lbs, and has wheels.

Nobody else in the business gets this. They think Tesla is just a car company with an electric motor, while completely ignoring the speed at which Tesla is able to roll out improvements.

I've said for a while that until the car companies start thinking like a software company, they'll be further and further behind. The difference is (quite literally) a company with a multi-year long effort to roll out a new version versus a company running the automotive equivalent of Scrum.

Electric cars are not a completely unrelated field. The big logistics and sales operations they're using today will largely be unchanged. In fact, I would argue Tesla is unlikely to succeed because of companies like Ford.

Ford and Tesla have considerably different sized supply chains, and supply chain re-tooling is probably the most difficult part of massive manufacturing volume. I would guess it will take Ford a few years just to regain capabilities, never mind the capacity to ship once that's done.

I don't see why Ford can't use its existing system to build electric cars.

For the same reasons that Walmart can't just be Amazon.com or that John Deere doesn't make a 4 door sedan.

All you're really saying is Ford can't build an electric car the same way Tesla plans to build electric cars. But electric cars aren't very different from conventional cars - Ford's logistics system is more likely to be an advantage than a disadvantage.

Is that really all I'm saying? Please read about: Structural inertia, organizational restructuring, core competencies of a business. It's incredibly difficult for a large company to change direction, build new capabilities, and fundamentally switch it's core competency (in this instance from a manufacturing business to a technology business). I presume you've never run a business at scale?

It's not like they're switching from building cars to building fighter jets. They're switching from cars to... cars. Ford has adapted to new technologies in the past, and they'll adapt this time, too. I don't know why you assume the people running Ford are idiots. They're not, and from their perspective building an electric car is just coming out with a new model year.

Ford are investors in my company and I'm an investor in Ford. Ford are doing an amazing job. It's not Ford I'm saying are idiots...

Ford needs to electric assist their SUV products.

An expedition, for example, is a great rig. I own one, and it's used for a lot of different purposes. I can't really replace it reasonably, and they run well for a very long time.

I would consider another with an electric assist option.

I collected gas use data for a few months. Mpg could be doubled in that vehicle for a modest weight increase that could likely be significantly offset with a weight reduction in other areas.

Hybrid vehicles in the larger weight classes makes a lot of sense. Serms to me Ford would get a ton of expertise and gain relevance while adding a ton of value.

Very dramatic. What we are seeing is shareholders acting like a brainless herd for the same reasons voters have been doing.

No. Car manufacturers are and have for a long time been known as assemblers. This goes for Ford as well as Tesla. Tesla is not a battery company.

> Tesla is not a battery company.

Tesla owns the world's largest battery factory.

> Electric motors are something everyone's known how to make for a hundred years

We are not talking about toy motors. Before Tesla who knew about making a car motor which can reach 0-60 in 2.27 seconds?

Electric motors, unlike internal combustion engines, produce very high torque at low/zero RPMs, and therefore can accelerate very quickly. Electrical engineers have known this literally since the 19th Century. Electric motors in industrial applications routinely do things many times more demanding than anything that will ever be required in a car, and have been doing so since the time of Nikola Tesla.

Hobbyists have been putting down crazy 0-60 times for years. For example, here's an electric Mustang conversion with a 0-60 time under 2 seconds:


Here's a Datsun 1200 with a 1.8 second 0-60:


That one was built twenty-three years ago!

Tesla's achievement isn't the 0-60 time itself, but rather doing so in a car that 1) is a practical daily driver family car 2) will withstand a couple hundred thousand miles of driving without replacing major components 3) is safe and robust enough to put into the hands of thousands of ordinary consumers and 4) can be manufactured for a cost that is not entirely ludicrous.

Which is impressive, but unrelated to the motor. In fact, the rear motor in the P100D is the same as the one in my 85 and essentially the same as the one that was in the original 2012 Model S, and the front motor is just a smaller, less powerful version.

The main innovations which enabled this are related to the battery pack, not the motors. Most of that innovation is cutting costs. It's really easy to get a lot of power out of a large battery pack, and Tesla's cheap batteries means they can put large ones in their cars without completely blowing the cost up. They just about maxed this out with the P85D, which did 0-60 in around 3 seconds. At that point they started to be limited by the amount of current that the battery's fuses could handle. They got past that problem by using a "smart" pyrotechnic fuse instead of the traditional melty-metal kind, resulting in "ludicrous mode" on the P85D and P90D. Then the P100D bumps it up a bit more just by virtue of having a larger battery.

> will withstand a couple hundred thousand miles of driving without replacing major components

How many Teslas out there with > 100K miles and how many with > 200K miles?

Not many, since it's a pretty new car, but more than zero. For example: https://techcrunch.com/2016/09/29/tales-from-a-tesla-model-s...

The most limiting part is energy storage.

Even the other difficult problems like dealing with starting current, construction, heat, and lifetime have been solved many ways for a long time.

I think the problem is not that Ford can't make electric cars, but that Ford struggles to make good or competitive electric cars.

Chevy, as a counterpoint, is also an American / Detroit-based automaker that also plays it safe with most of their lineup. But Chevy has still invested heavily in modern renewable/efficient vehicles too (Volt and Bolt).

Ford has nothing to offer that is competitive with these modern vehicles -- Ford's Hybrids/EVs are basically just minimum compliance cars. Even ignoring all of Tesla, Ford's current 2017 lineup still struggles a bit to compete with the original Chevy Volt, a six year old car first released back in 2011.

Are they struggling or are they just not attempting to make good competitive electric cars. There is no networking effect in this market. Chevy might be a decade early into the EV market.

Waiting for Tesla, Chevy, etc to pay for industries of scale for battery manufacturing, and then coming in with a cheaper version later isn't necessarily a bad strategy.

Every Bolt costs Chevy 7 thousand dollars right now.

I'd say for most folks in North-America, a car like the Volt makes more sense than a purely electric vehicle like the Bolt. 50 miles range on all-electric power and then the gas generator kicks in. No range anxiety, no long wait time at charging stations either.

>I think the problem is not that Ford can't make electric cars, but that Ford struggles to make good or competitive electric cars.

And you base that on what exactly? Their EVs are in the pipeline.

>that also plays it safe with most of their lineup.

As opposed to..who? Who do you consider "living dangerously" in the auto industry?

>Ford's current 2017 lineup still struggles a bit to compete with the original Chevy Volt

Have you considered that they aren't trying to compete in the market yet? That there have been precisely zero EVs that are being produced profitably?

Despite what HN conveys, the EV market is WIDE OPEN. Tesla hasn't won anything. The excitement is forthcoming, not decided.

> And you base that on what exactly? Their EVs are in the pipeline.

That's exactly what I base that on. Modern EV's have been widely available in the market for over half a decade, and Ford still hasn't shipped a competitive one.

Sure, Ford may have a groundbreaking product "in the pipeline". But the landscape as it stands today has them pretty far behind. It seems fair to evaluate a company based on the products it actually has, not the products it claims might happen -- wouldn't you agree?

> Have you considered that there have been precisely zero EVs that are being produced profitably?

This is simply not true. The Volt, BMW i3, and some Tesla models are all currently profitable vehicles.



> Despite what HN conveys, the EV market is WIDE OPEN. Tesla hasn't won anything.

I never claimed Tesla (or anyone else) has "won" the EV market. Just that you can't win a game you don't play, and Ford (so far) hasn't been playing.

Tesla has 20-30% gross margins on the Model S and X. They're profitable cars (though the company is not, due to heavy capital investments).

Other EVs do seem to be sold at a loss though, because their main purpose isn't to be profitable on their own, but to enable more sales of larger ICE vehicles (by meeting fleet economy standards) that are much more profitable.

Ford will just wait for Mazda to offer an electric package and use that.

I don't think they own part of Mazda anymore, for the past couple of years or so.

Not only that, but Mazda itself has been resource-starved enough that they don't have a viable electric car program either. They've pretty much put all their eggs in the "Skyactiv" ICE basket (which, to be fair, has paid off for them fairly well up to this point).

Whether or not they own part of Mazda, nearly all Ford engines are made by Mazda. I think the only exception is the Triton.

I wonder how much of the drivetrain technology in the Bolt is owned by LG.

If most of it is stuff that can be licensed to automakers other than GM, then GM doesn't have much of a lead.

Yeah, odd that GM was boasting about how much research money and time that they sank into the Volt and Bolt drive train and batterypack, and then turned around and "collaborated" with LG for the Bolt drivetrain and battery pack. Who owns the IP?

Is that odd? LG made the Volt battery pack too. The Volt, Bolt, and even the old Spark EV battery packs are all made by LG Chem in Holland Michigan, just a few hours away from the Volt assembly line in Detroit.


They can and actually do currently make electric cars. The problem is people are excited about the Chevy Volt, and Bolt not to mention Tesla. I doubt most people even know you can get an electric Focus.

This perception takes time and money to curate. They need it in place when electric cars get popular or they will be left behind.

> I doubt most people even know you can get an electric Focus.

And the people who do know, are (mostly) the folks who would never buy one.

Who's going to buy the Focus Energi that gets 21 miles on battery, when you can get a faster, nicer Volt that gets 53+ miles on battery.

Who's going to buy the Focus Electric that gets 100 miles range, when you can buy a Bolt EV that gets 238 miles of range.

It gives them experience with controls and motors. They can take that and buy bigger batteries from LG.

Earlier I found this article that breaks down the design of the Bolt:


So GM did the motor and controls and such. But you don't need a big battery in a practical vehicle to work that stuff out, you can work on it in an emissions vehicle with a little battery.

GM is certainly doing better than Ford in terms of what you can buy right now. I'm not sure that matters much with batteries still costing quite a lot.

It's not an engineering problems it's a public perception problem. When you proudly determine you too are going to join the EV craze what brands will come to mind?

Right now it's Tesla and GM that have the mind share. This needs to be fixed before volumes get too large or GM will have an enormous lead.

I agree mind share is important, but the vehicles just aren't generally desirable enough right now for it to be a big factor. The Bolt is something like 0.5% of GM's sales, with them losing money on each one.

All a competitor has to do to overcome the mind share factor there is be modestly less expensive or have modestly better range (while being otherwise comparable).

People don't buy cars based on price. If they did everyone would be driving a base model sub compact for $12K new off the lot.

Electric cars have a number of advantages that will cause them to dominate in the future once battery capacity improves. However which specific EV a person buys will be an emotional decision. Most people will want to take the risk on a new technology with whomever is perceived to be the leader in the field.

That's assuming you care to sell about people who are "going to join the EV craze" and not people who just want a new car with cheap fuel that doesn't look weird.

No reason other than learned ineffectiveness, a common malaise affecting powerful incumbents.

> Shareholders didn’t just call out Mr. Fields. Some 35 percent of them also voted to abandon the dual-class share structure that gives the descendants of Henry Ford two-fifths of the vote with less than 2 percent of the stock. Stripping out the family’s votes meant that at least 58.5 percent of investors favored moving to one share, one vote — an act of open rebellion.

Holy Crap!

>Holy Crap!

It'll happen to all these dual-class shares when the tide turns and the tech sector falls from favour.

I think Ford's case is substantially different than that of Google and Facebook though, because in the tech companies' cases if the shares are ever transferred from the original founders they automatically lose their super-voting rights. The theory is that the founders were smart enough to build the juggernauts in the first place, and as long as they're alive they're (hopefully) the best people to keep them going. With the Ford situation, the current super-voting members of the Ford household "earned" that right by wisely choosing the right parents. :)

This. Super-voting rights makes some sense for startups and for companies like Times Mirror, where you don't want people buying up shares so they can dictate the news. Less so for other companies.

On the other hand, while it's been close, Ford is the only US automaker that hasn't taken a trip through bankruptcy court.

Yeah, Carlos Slim has 0 say in what the times reports. /S

He probably does. But there's influence and then there's dictatorial power.

Your account is new so I'll just tell you: sarcastic replies are almost always obliterated here.

I think that's a pretty condescending way to make you're point. I've seen plenty of successful sarcastic posts over the years. I made my point and regardless of the direction of the votes, people saw it.

I think you misread my tone! Just noticed a < 1 year old account and filled you in, nothing more. Everyone else was just down voting, which I didn't think was helpful if you didn't yet know.

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