With all the brands jockeying for position and attention, there’s a lot of competition for headlines in the automotive industry. And, with many of the current headlines focusing on alternative fuel vehicles and autonomous cars, the edge goes to the industry leaders in those categories. Brands that are falling behind in those market segments are faced with a dilemma. Try to shift consumer attention away from the “latest and greatest” innovations in automotive tech, or try to catch up – or even surpass – the competition. For the brands that go with the latter, changes have to be made… serious, comprehensive changes, and very quickly.
That, perhaps, is why Ford Motor Company recently told shareholders to brace for “fairly large” shifts in the coming months. Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. said the company would be discontinuing certain North American models while also investing more heavily in R&D for electric vehicles. This announcement comes on the heels of a promise by Ford to cut costs while increasing its workforce, something many in the country are watching very closely after Ford promised a net gain in jobs at U.S. manufacturing facilities.
Still, sales are down, and that has CEO Jim Hackett looking at contingency plans. Restructuring is one strategy, as is discontinuing certain vehicles. Of course, stopping production on some cars could mean reductions in workforce at certain North American auto plants, leading to unpleasant headlines. Whatever the company plans to do, the leadership promising “something big.”
Ford will need something big to stop the bleeding in certain markets, especially in South America, where the automaker has lost about $4 billion over the past five years. Whatever they choose to do, there’s no doubt a big part of the plan will be messaging. If plant closures or workforce downsizing at certain plants is coming, that will require very deft messaging, especially after all the praise Ford received for not going ahead with a plan to build in Mexico. Consumers want the quintessential American car brand to put “America first”… or at least to appear to be doing so.
Ford, meanwhile, has to balance consumer perception and PR messaging with its growing interests overseas. Huge markets are in play, and many of these markets are looking for electric, hybrid and self-driving cars. That means more investment in innovation, even as the company is vowing to cut costs to keep shareholders happy.
It will be interesting to see how each of these aspects of communication and market placement play out in the coming months.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations