At the Detroit Auto Show in 2016, Ford used its press conference not to launch a car (as is traditional) but to proclaim its intent to transition from being an automotive company to an auto and mobility company. The service they launched that day, called FordPass, has yet to revolutionize the automotive experience. But the last six months at Ford have proved it is still interested in diversifying. The debuts of the Mustang Mach-E, F-150, and the revived Bronco, plus a leadership change that elevated Jim Farley, former head of new business, technology, and strategy, signal that Ford is getting serious about becoming more than just a car company.
Those three launches were important to the company for all the usual reasons (continued revenue, the chance to be better than Ram again, etc.), but they also serve as clear signals that Ford is finally in the execution stages of its plan to become that mobility company. The F-150 brings over-the-air updates to the mainstream. With it comes the ability to save huge amounts of time and money on warranty fixes, but also a foothold for Ford’s plans to collect and sell its customers’ data. The Mustang Mach-E and Bronco are the fruit of a more straightforward strategy: Ford is turning its best-selling models into lifestyle brands.
There was no small amount of distress in the automotive community when Ford launched an electric SUV with a pony badge on the front grille. We said that the decision to expand the Mustang brand in that particular direction made the world a “sadder place.” But for Ford, the name-sharing is an acknowledgment that even a good EV needs to ride on coattails if it’s going to succeed. This spring, a source at Ford told AutoWeek that we should all get used to thinking of the Mustang as more than just a muscle car. Ford is open to adding more members to the family, including hybrids, sedans, and more EVs and crossovers.
While the expansion of the Mustang family beyond the muscle car and Mach-E is still technically a rumor, Ford confirmed this month that Bronco will be a brand unto itself. Ford refers to Bronco as an “outdoor brand” and says that in addition to buying the Broncos themselves (so far there are three: two- and four-door Broncos and the tamer Bronco Sport crossover) customers will be able to buy off-road instruction and shop from an ever-growing list Bronco-brand accessories. There’s also an independent online community “for enthusiasts, by enthusiasts.” We’d call it “for enthusiasts, by Ford Motor Company,” but tomato tomato.
Ford is no longer asking its customers what they want to drive. It’s asking them who they are, and then providing a range of choices based on the answer. Do you like sleek design, live in an urban center, and prioritize driving performance? You’ll fit in just fine with the Mustang family. In its Bronco launch, Ford sang the call of the wild, opining on the “sections of the map that mapmakers haven’t gotten to yet.” That’s a stunning erasure of the hard work by the folks at Google Maps, but you get the idea. If you own a Yeti cooler, you’re a Bronco customer. And the offerings from both of these brand pillars will offer the over-the-air updates and data tracking that Ford says will improve the ownership experience (and save or make the company gobs of money).
The old worry used to be based on the idea that car-sharing and other non-traditional ownership models would erode customer relationships with individual car companies and threaten sales volume. The future of car-sharing is less certain than ever, and some analysts now believe demand for cars could be permanently loweras a result of Americans’ post-coronavirus lifestyle changes. In that world, Ford's new strategy–to build a business that doesn't rely solely on car sales–is beginning to make sense.
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