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Is Ford’s Perceived Trouble Just A Matter Of Bad Communication?

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Ford is doing just fine these days.

Yes, profits were down substantially in the first quarter; and yes, the automaker anticipates bringing in far less in pretax profits than it did in 2015 and 2016. Still, the company is forecasting $9 billion before taxes in 2017, which is hardly unhealthy, and its poised to survive the impending industry slowdown just fine.

You mightn’t know it from the recent headlines, though, which make it sound as though the Glass House is in full-blown crisis mode. Michael Martinez, writing for Automotive News, chalks that up to little more than a “bad communications strategy.”

Ford’s recent investments in autonomous vehicles and mobility services “allows Ford to compete with automakers and tech firms alike,” Martinez writes. “It can all be defended.” Yet the promise of eventually seeing some return on those gambles has so far done nothing to encourage investors, while the automaker’s share value has dropped nearly 32 percent over three years. Last week, shareholders expressed frustration at the stock’s weak performance, days after the board reportedly pressed President and CEO Mark Fields to justify the company’s strategy.

And when an entirely defensible investment strategy incurs skepticism from the board, shareholders, and other investors, there are few places to put the blame outside of communications.

Martinez charges that “Ford’s long-despised ‘drip-drip-drip’ approach to news-making is outdated and ineffective,” citing as examples the fact that the automaker has only announced seven of the 13 electrified vehicles it has in the pipeline, and that details regarding its first fully-autonomous vehicle, due out in 2021, are still scarce. At some point, he argues, people lose interest while waiting for the next “drip” of relevant info, and “simply move on.”

Meanwhile, Brian Johnson of Barclays maintains that Ford’s “solid, workman-like” strategy for investment into electrified and autonomous vehicles is “underappreciated.” A study from Navigant Research published earlier this year even concluded that Ford is in the best position of any company to profit from self-driving cars.

When news like that fails to boost a company’s share value, it’s worth asking whether communication is at fault.

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Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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