Interview with Ford Europe boss Farley

Interview with Ford Europe boss Farley
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J ames D. Farley, whom everyone calls 'Jim', is in the parking lot in front of the 'Devil's Diner', right next to the entrance to the Nordschleife. Black loafers, black jeans, Ford polo shirt. No jacket, no baseball cap. The 54-year-old doesn't care about the rain, the cold anyway: “I'm used to the Michigan weather, that's okay for me.” At the Ford headquarters in Dearborn, he was most recently responsible for the global sales and marketing of the auto giant . Farley puts on the open face helmet and straps on in the blue Focus RS.

Rossen Gargolov
Farley in Focus RS.
How great is your respect for the Nordschleife ?

Farley: Nothing can be compared to the Nordschleife built in 1927. Phil Hill was the first to tell me about the North Loop. I worked in Hill's restoration workshop in Santa Monica to earn money for college. Sometimes he sat down with us workers during breakfast break. I asked him what the scariest racetrack he had ever driven was. Phil Hill said: “I was Formula 1 world champion, I won Le Mans. But my greatest achievement was that in 1961 - as an American - I was the first to drive the Nordschleife in Germany under nine minutes. ”

How did you react?

Farley: I said to him: Tell me everything about this route. “I can't,” answered Phil, “you have to experience it yourself, otherwise you won't believe that there is such a huge racetrack.” And now I'm finally here.

Jim Farley controls the 350 hp strong Focus RS on the wet track, in a bunch with some Porsche 911, 3-series BMW and a red Subaru Impreza WRX. The Ford boss drives two laps, the track is greasy. It is extreme at the Brünnchen. Those who do not know the rain line from the outside must be extremely careful. TheIt's not the driver of the red Subaru far behind Farley. It turns as if in slow motion - and comes to a stop less than ten centimeters from the guardrail. Back in the parking lot, Farley gets out of focus.

And how was it on the North Loop? Do you understand Phil Hill better now?

Farley: Is that close here! I had the same feeling at Le Mans, where I drove the Le Mans Classic. But this feels even more dramatic. And then you, as the driver, also see the many spectators who are standing by the track and see if something happens.

Gerd Stegmaier
the Ford GT is coming to Germany in 2017.
You are driving otherwise in historic motorsport?

Farley: Right. I drove a few Cobra first, won a few races. Then I bought a Lola Ford and then some other cars. Now I have a two-liter Lola again, the T298. I drove with it at Sebring, Spa and the Classics at Le Mans. It's fast and safe, I like this car a lot.

We go to the “Devil’s Diner” right at the entrance to the race track. “It looks pretty American, with all the signs and pennants and burger offers here and the taps,” says Farley, but only orders a still water. We'll keep talking.

Leaving aside the racing cars: what other cars do you own?

Farley: Me have a 1955 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT. It took me 20 years until the owner finally sold it to me. A beautiful car. Then I have a very special, award-winning 1932 Ford Hot Rod that I did a lot on myself for ten years, using parts from a 1950s Indy car. I just bought a Ford GT40 and drove it at Goodwood. Sometimes I say for fun that I've made more money in my life buying and selling old cars than working for Ford.

How important is sportiness in the future for the Ford brand?

Farley: A very important question for us! Before I came here, I did global sales and thatMarketing controlled. I knew a lot about markets. But it was only when I was in Europe that I realized how different Ford’s position is here. In America, only eight percent of cars are premium; in Germany it is 55 percent. That means: If Ford wants to find a place here in Europe and Germany, you have to find out how you can position yourself next to the premium brands. By that I don't mean to outdo them in the competition, but rather to simply be better in certain things. Just as Subaru can do some things better than Toyota.

What does that mean exactly?

Farley: In the beginning one chassis design, we have already successfully shown that with some models. But there is more: design, electrification, sportiness as an overall concept for our vehicles. I think the only way for Ford to compete with the premium brands that come from above, and at the same time with the other competitors in the volume segment, is: We have to focus on emotions.

Some of their current models, the Mondeo for example, are no longer as sporty as their predecessors. Does that go together?

Farley: I know you and your testers feel that way. Our Ford developers still think the new models are sporty - but I don't want to argue about that. You know, I was jointly responsible for Ford's GT program, for the ST and RS models, and it is very clear to me that the subject of sportiness will give us a lot of homework. For example, how to make an SUV really sporty. But I'll stick with it: Sportiness has to shape the personality of all our models.

We drive into the old paddock, stand in front of the pits named “Phil Hill”, Farley's idol. It's lousy cold and continues to rain. The Ford boss still doesn't want a jacket, stands in the light of the photographer's headlights, lets his gaze wander over the world's oldest surviving paddock. He looks impressed.

Is sportiness enough? Don't you need more points to differentiate yourself from your competitors?

Farley: Sure. Athleticism is a good place to start. But we also need other things that work emotionally for the Ford brand. Off-road skills, for example. Our Pickup Ranger is the market leader, and we are very strong with our SUVs.

What about your super sports car, the Ford GT - when will it finally come to Germany?

Farley: Next year, in a number between 20 and 50 for Germany. More than 6,000 people worldwide want one. But we only build 250 pieces a year. We don't want to sell this supercar to people who just put it in their collection and then seal the door. The GT should drive, hehas to be on the road to show what Ford technology can do.

How much will it cost?

Farley: We haven't finalized that yet. The price will be in the order of around 450,000 US dollars.

Speaking of numbers: You have achieved good numbers in European business for the first half of the year. Are you satisfied?

Farley: You can never be satisfied. But I am pleased that we achieved pre-tax profits of $ 900 million in the first half of the year - six times as much as in the first half of 2015. 5.8 percent profit margin isn't bad either - but I want Ford to be just as profitable as the premium manufacturers. It looks very good for us in commercial vehicles, where we are the market leader in Europe.

Are you overslept with the topic of electric cars?

Farley: In the US, we're number two in hybrid sales. We have announced that we will invest $ 4.5 billion in electrification, and in 2020 we will have 13 electrified model variants. So we're doing something.

How much sorrow does Dieselgate give you?

Farley: What happened there will change the entire auto industry - and it already has. I'm always interested in the customer. And he has lost a lot of trust. Ford has no problems with diesel, we don't have any fraud software. Nevertheless, we notice that, for example, more customers are now opting for an Ecoboost petrol engine for the Kuga.

Are you a fan of autonomous driving?

Farley: I had to take the car keys away from my father when I was very old. Had autonomous driving already existed, it would have remained mobile. This technology creates new markets, new customers. But I still think about what it means for people like me who just love to drive.

And for your sporty image.

Farley: Perhaps in the future it will be the case that autonomous driving will be everyday like television. And then driving with a lot of joy is going to the cinema.

Do you come from a car-crazy family?

Farley: My grandfather was the 389th worker Henry Ford personally hired. My dad, however, was a banker who hated cars, and anyway, motorsport. “What a waste, what are you doing?” He always asked me.


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