Ford Lobbying to Begin Manufacturing Again
The automotive industry is struggling. With people staying home, they’re driving less, and relatively few people are driving to dealerships to shop for new cars or even for service appointments. Meanwhile, risks to workers at manufacturing plants led many U.S. manufacturers to shut down operations entirely at many plants across the country — they weren’t building and people weren’t buying.
This situation is not sustainable for American automotive manufacturers. They need to communicate a plan to get back up and running as soon as safely possible. The first step in that process came recently when Ford Motor Company offered plans for the safety measure the company will put in place in an effort to restart operations at some of its most profitable U.S. plants.
Members of the business world media are describing these plans as expansions on previous plans put out by General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, hoping to use the “expanded” plans to convince United Auto Workers members to come back to work. So far, though, there’s been no word from the UAW as to how their membership views the plans, other than an emphatic refusal to get back to work in early May.
This is a major economic hurdle for automakers, because they need Michigan workers’ buy-in to get back to work in earnest. That means this economic hurdle is a serious communications challenge. Speaking to reporters, Ford COO Jim Farley said the first part of the plan is all about “getting clarity” from government leaders. “We’re ready!” Farley said.
That need for “clarity” telegraphs another major hurdle for Ford and its competitor auto manufacturers. The companies still have to convince Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer that it’s safe for residents of her state to get back to work. Even if Ford, GM, and Chrysler can convince UAW members, they still need the green light from Whitmer, and the governor has taken a very strong stance on social distancing as the solution to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
To emphasize how strongly he feels about his company’s readiness to get people back to work, Farley told reporters he would be “absolutely comfortable” having his family work in a Ford plant “given the safety steps” the company now has in place.
So far, while UAW is at the table with the automakers, no deal has been reached and no hopeful start date has been announced. The union has concerns about PPE and about how the equipment will operate, as well as the speed of the workflow and testing protocols. In response, Ford has said the company will not have a “reliable and scalable testing solution” in place for some time, which is proving to be a sticking point.
From a communication standpoint, Ford needs to deliver its plan clearly and convincingly, then invite all stakeholders to express concerns with equal clarity, so all sides understand exactly what’s expected and being discussed. Any ambiguity could scuttle plans at any stage of negotiation.