As Ford is poised to transform itself from an auto company to – as the company says – both an auto and a mobility company, it’s important to note that this is not the first time the Blue Oval has had such aspirations.
According to Autoblog, the man primarily responsible for Ford’s first (failed) attempt at a mobility renaissance in the late 1990s was former President and CEO Jacques Nasser.
Mr. Nasser’s tenure at Ford spanned more than three decades, starting with a position as a financial analyst in Australia, and terminating with a brief stint as President and CEO lasting less than three years. Some of his big-ticket initiatives as CEO included a new policy under which up to 10 percent of under-performing managers could be terminated, launching the Premier Automotive Group (PAG), and most-relevant to this discussion, attempting to transform Ford “from a boring old car maker” into a “consumer-products and services company” (as The Economist reported in 1999).
As Autoblog reports, Jacques Nasser’s attempted expansion into consumer products and services included acquiring the UK’s Kwik Fit chain of auto service shops, purchasing scrap yards, and acquiring Norway-based EV company Th!nk, which dabbled in electrified cars, bikes, and golf carts. The idea was, of course, to diversify, and supplement Ford’s core business of building cars and trucks (high investment, low margin) with consumer services (lower investment, higher margin).
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, none of Mr. Nasser’s moves ever really paid off. Ford sold Kwik Fit in 2002 – a mere 3 years after acquiring it, and a year after Nasser retired from the company. The company abandoned Th!nk shortly thereafter, and as far as we know, not much ever became of those Ford-owned junkyards.
However, it’s tempting to think of Mr. Nasser as being somewhat prophetic; Ford Motor Company has acquired patents on a handful of different electric-bike designs, and is investing “bigly” in electrified drivetrains for its cars and trucks. The company’s new “Omnicraft” parts brand seems like something one might have been able to get at their local Kwik Fit shop, Autoblog notes.
Jacques Nasser’s bold vision for Ford back in 1999 may have been seen as little more than a naive distraction at the time, but in fact, it was no less than a startlingly accurate vision of things to come.