Best of the worst

Best of the worst

Ford’s climb to the top of the bottom of the barrel

By Jennifer Hadley 04/02/2009

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In college, my roommate Laura had a Ford Explorer, which was arguably one of the nicest cars any freshman at the University of Oregon could lay claim to. All the same, that didn’t stop me or my derelict friends from making fun of the Ford. Ford stood for “Found On Road Dead,” “Fix Or Repair Daily” or, crassest of all, “F’ed Over Rebuilt Dodge.” Of course we were all secretly jealous of Laura and her big American SUV, as the rest of us had to walk everywhere … in the rain!

My aversion to Ford (and American cars in general) has remained intact over the years, though I don’t know where my distrust and/or disdain originated. I suppose somewhere someone (read: some guy I had a crush on) must have told me that American cars were crappy, and I soaked that belief up like a good little sponge, never questioning why they were subpar. 

Now things are different. I’m older and theoretically wiser. That is, now I’m proud to make these kinds of gross generalizations all by myself. And ironically enough, from my 31-year-old perspective — of America’s Big Three (GM, Chrysler and Ford), “Fix Or Repair Daily” is the only American car company making any headway in conquering my preconceived negative notions about American carmakers.

To date, Ford is the only one of the Big Three who hasn’t needed a bailout. In fact, while GM and Chrysler were begging Congress for up to a further $21.6 billion (in addition to the $17.4 billion they’ve already received), Ford was instead restructuring debt and planning to buy back as much as $11.3 billion of the $23 billion they borrowed in 2006.  Ford was also the first of the Big Three to renegotiate contracts with the UAW and cut their labor costs, even as GM and Chrysler continue to struggle on that front. 

But what strikes me as perhaps the smartest move Ford has made in the wake of this global automotive crisis is its partnership with Mantra International to release an electric car in 2011. (An electric car that Ford doesn’t have to spend money on research and design to create, because Mantra has more or less done it all for them.) The Canadian-based auto parts and assembly supplier essentially took a Ford Focus body and built the electric engine into the car.

To me, the decision to partner with Mantra International shows that Ford isn’t just dealing with debt better than GM and Chrysler; they’re proactively pursuing alternative avenues for longer-term cost savings, while remaining competitive in the electric vehicle field. Certainly the engineers, researchers and designers at Ford could have created an electric car to compete with Chevy’s yet-to-be-released Volt. But that would have taken a lot of time and a lot of money, which Ford seems to understand it doesn’t have.  So they found an alternative solution, and had the car made for them instead. While I’m not crazy about the fact that the car is being made in Canada, I’d be a lot less crazy about my tax dollars going to bail out yet another American car company; so by all means, make the darn thing in Canada, if it will keep my money in my pocket in America.

Still, although Ford’s small victories during the death throes of the US car industry have certainly grabbed my attention, the ineptitude at GM and Chrysler still has me turning up my nose at most American-made cars. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy that Ford is showing a little ingenuity.  In my opinion, something good should come out of Detroit, and it looks more and more like Ford is coming out as the MVP. Although, I have to admit, that’s kind of like being the MVP of the Lions.

Contact Jennifer Hadley at jmhadley624@yahoo.com.

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