Ford’s Better Idea!

Nobody asked me but . . .

If I were starting a car company today, I could do far worse than to start off with Eric Kuehn and Don Ufford. These are not two names that instantly pop to mind or roll off the tongue unless your roots run deep into the bowels of one of the Detroit car companies –formerly known as the Big Three, not Prince. And if you twist my arm tightly enough you might get me to utter one of the seven deadly media sins. Okay, okay, it’s the F-word: Ford!

Having spent the previous several days working into the wee hours of the morning on a project with a yesterday deadline (aren’t they all?) the last thing I was looking forward to was rising first thing in the morning for an early morning press conference.

But Ford’s PAG headquarters is literally right around the corner from me and a promise is a promise, even if it was made weeks before I was being totally consumed by all nighters. By skipping the Ford breakfast spread—at this point I needed sleep more than food—I rolled in just as Ufford was putting a new twist on a demo of F-150 frame torsional stiffness via a digital readout and 200 pounds of dead weight supported by a ubiquitous floor jack. Ford had arranged for examples of Brand C and Brand T full-size truck frames to undergo the same test, and, no surprise, Ford won. Stiffer is better.

By this time my eyes were open far enough for me to appreciate what was going on. We moved to a demo of spring shackle bolt strength where audience participation via a 4-foot long torque wrench was not only expected but also demanded. Ford must figure media torque is cheap. In some cases it is . . . but let’s not go there.

Next up was Kuehn beating the drum for the differences in the noise characteristics of various steels. He made his point emphatically—with a hammer. Pounding on a competitor’s conventional body panel sent sound waves reverberating off the ceiling. But you could have heard a pin drop in the room when he thumped on the Ford steel. This demo had all the impact of a lead balloon—which was just the point.

Hey, these guys were having fun and most of us in the media audience were too. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I realized that I was among kindred spirits of the kind that I find all too infrequently at car companies these days: people with a genuine passion for what they do. These guys ate, drank and slept trucks. You could tell they had gasoline –or diesel—running through their veins. You could damp their steel but not their enthusiasm. These guys knew their stuff and I discovered that these techie road shows had started a few years ago when the latest F-150s were introduced. While explaining the in and outs of Ford’s newest full-size pickup to dealer personnel, Ford’s tech team found itself with an audience of customers who were equally as interested in learning more. This has led to an expanded consumer learning program, and in the past year alone Ford has handed out more than a million DVDs to Ford shoppers who wanted to become educated on Ford trucks. That’s got to be some of the cheapest and most focused advertising Ford has ever created. And notice, the idea didn’t come from an ad agency but from a bunch of engineers!

I moved from observing to driving . . . behind the wheel of a 2008 F-150 Lariat Limited. Nice truck. Actually, a damn nice truck. Ford gets it. You gotta treat your truck customer with the same respect as your car customer. No more shoddy build quality. No more cheap shiny plastic interiors. And, hey, Don ain’t BS-ing when he throws around words such as steering response, shock absorber ratios, roll stiffness and transient response. These latest F-150s really handle!

I told Kuehn that I hoped some of the truck group’s passion rubbed off on the car side of Ford’s business. Lord knows it needs it. I’d humbly suggest that the Fusion is a good start in the right direction.

And let’s also hope that Ford’s higher-ups understand what they’ve got here: Employees who love what they are doing. Truck guys with genuine passion. Alan Mulally should give these guys a raise, get out of their way and let them keep on truckin’. They are—in no uncertain terms—Ford’s future.

I do not work for Ford; Ford does not work for me. Ford did not pay me to write this article. I did not pay Ford for the privilege of sharing these words with you. I do not own a Ford truck; unless, you consider a 1996 Windstar van a truck (which, ironically, Ford did, when the Windstar was first introduced). I do, however, occasionally test drive and evaluate Ford trucks . . . and cars. I am not related to either of the engineers listed in this article. Kuehn is not related to the famous Detroit Tigers baseball player with the same last name: Harvey Kuehn. Kuehn, the baseball player, actually spelled his name Kuenn although it is often misspelled as Kuehn. However, the much alive Kuehn, the engineer, and Kuenn, the baseball player, who passed away in 1988, do pronounce their names the same: keen. Ford is a four-letter F word. However, Ford is not the four-letter F word, which was one of the seven words memorialized in a terrifically funny monologue by comedian George Carlin.

Words in this article are not closer than they appear. But they mirror reality more than you could ever imagine.

F-150 with versatile, factory-installed Cargo Management System. The basic system includes two side rails, a pair of bins, a pair of crossbars and a header bar. Optional Rearview Camera System enhances visibility at the rear of the box.

Luxurious F-150 Lariat Limited interior. Ford did not steer clear of the leather appointments.

Fleet owners can choose an innovative mid-box mounted behind the cab that provides lockable storage for tools and other items. The rugged, steel construction features double-paneled doors that are accessible from both side of the truck and lock/unlock with the same key that operates the driver’s door.

F-150 XL. When properly equipped, the F-150 has a maximum tow rating of 11,000 lb and maximum payload capacity of 3,050 lb.

Upgraded F-150 STX includes body-color front and rear step bumpers, air conditioning (Regular Cab), AM/FM audio system with single CD player and cloth 40/20/40 split-front seat.


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