Starkman: How Ford Played Whitmer, Dingell, Tlaib and Jay Leno for Fools

October 20, 2021, 10:34 PM

Eric Starkman of Los Angeles is a former Detroit News business reporter who blogs at Starkman Approved.

By Eric Starkman

I’m fast coming to appreciate why everyone is so in awe of Ford CEO Jim Farley’s sales and marketing skills. In addition to pulling the wool over the Detroit Free Press’ eyes and garnering an unrestrained puff piece despite dissing Michigan with planned $11 billion investments in Tennessee and Kentucky, he’s also done a masterful job playing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib and comedian Jay Leno for fools.

Let’s begin with Whitmer.

In late July, Whitmer issued this news release touting Ford’s $100-million investment “to create a state-of-the-art battery research facility” at an existing facility in Romulus.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: "Help us continue leading the world." (Photo: State of Michigan)

“Ford’s investment in battery research and development in Romulus will support hundreds of good-paying jobs, attract innovative talent to Michigan, and help us continue leading the world in advanced mobility and manufacturing,” Whitmer said. “With the research that will take place at Ford Ion Park, they will shape the next century while reducing emissions and accelerating electrification.”

Anand Sankaran, the Ford executive assigned to oversee Ford Ion Park, added: “The new lab will help Ford speed up the battery development process to deliver even more capable, affordable batteries and is part of Ford’s renewed commitment to making Michigan a centerpiece of its focus on EVs.”

It takes months to put together sweetheart deals like the ones Ford struck in Tennessee and Kentucky – together the biggest investment in Ford’s more than 100-year history. Unlike the “hundreds” of jobs that Whitmer touted for Michigan, Ford’s investments will create more than 11,000 jobs in Tennessee and Kentucky.

'A Centerpiece,' Really?

That Ford would issue a statement declaring Michigan “a centerpiece of its focus on EVs” knowing full well it was working on its mega-investments in Tennessee and Kentucky suggests how little regard the company has for Whitmer and the state’s economic development people. Whitmer is on record as saying that Ford never gave Michigan an opportunity to make a counter bid for the company’s Tennessee and Kentucky investments.

As is typical with corporate investments in Michigan, Ford’s Romulus deal came with sweetheart state and local tax benefits.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, whose district includes parts of Dearborn where Ford is headquartered, also hailed Ford’s Romulus investment, which she declared “would help create and maintain good-paying union jobs for Michiganders and continue our state’s leadership and competitiveness in building batteries and developing auto technology, without having to export any innovation or jobs overseas. “

At least Dingell got one thing right: The EV and battery jobs Ford is exporting aren’t going overseas, just to Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mexico.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib inside a Ford F-150 with Israeli technology

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whose district also includes part of Dearborn, in July tweeted a photo of her beaming in Ford’s new electric F-150, declaring, “I’m excited that our district will be at the forefront of building cleaner vehicles, especially as we will struggle to meet Clean Air Act standards."

Tlaib, deemed among the world’s biggest anti-Semites by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, champions the boycott, divestment and sanction movement to punish Israel. Ford says the electric F-150 truck is outfitted with the Mappo travel app, which is supported by audio content from literary icons, historians, authors, musicians and others.

The Mappo app was developed in Israel. Given that Ford announced in 2019 that its newly opened research and development center in Israel would serve as a research hub augmenting the company’s global research and advanced engineering team, it seems likely the F-150 has other Israeli technology throughout its body.

'American-Made,' Really? 

CEO Farley was more than happy to let Leno make a fool of himself. During an interview where Leno effused about Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, the comedian noted: “You know it’s American made.” Leno never thought possible that Ford would manufacture a vehicle with the iconic Mustang nameplate in a foreign country. 

CEO Jim Farley and Jay Leno

The electric Mustang Mach-E is made in Mexico for U.S. buyers. Farley didn’t bother to set Leno straight. He didn’t even cringe. (You can watch the interview here. Leno’s “American made” comment is at the four-minute mark.)

On Tuesday, Ford rolled out its first Mach-E in China, doing its part to help the economy of that communist country. The automotive trade press has reported that Ford is planning two more electric models for its plant site in Mexico.

Ford in September announced it plans to hire software developers, data scientists, research and development engineers and finance engineers in India to service its global business. That means more high paying jobs will be offshored. Ford could potentially become like IBM, which has more employees in India than it does in the U.S.

It's painfully obvious why Ford didn’t bother trying to cut a deal with Michigan. Tennessee’s governor and congressional officials have their act together. In addition to plans to invest $40 million in a vocational school for electric vehicle mechanics, the state has agreed to build and operate water and wastewater systems for Ford’s mega site and plans to build a second interchange on Interstate 40 near Ford's planned mega campus.

Rest assured, the interchange will be silky smooth, unlike the highway and roads leading into Romulus.

History of Promising Jobs

Tennessee officials clearly know that auto makers have a long history of promising jobs that never materialize. Tennessee’s $500 million in direct grants and other goodies comes with a hitch: If Ford doesn’t deliver on its promised jobs, they will pay a penalty.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn

Dingell and Tlaib have been silent on Ford’s Michigan abandonment. They’ve also been silent about Spectrum Health of Grand Rapids taking over troubled Beaumont Health. Three of Beaumont’s hospitals serve Dingell’s and Tlaib’s districts and they have mediocre and poor safety ratings. I guess they have much bigger things on their plates than dealing with the biggest company, or the hospitals located in their districts.

If they don’t care enough to fight for jobs and ensure quality healthcare for their constituents, why should Ford waste their time dealing with them? A comment Farley made in a 2003 interview when a GM executive criticized the design of Toyota’s Scion youth brand that Farley oversaw, possibly had bigger meaning than what was realized at the time.

“I don’t care about Detroit,” Farley quipped.

He meant the Detroit auto industry. But it seems that Farley’s loyalty to Michigan and Detroit no longer runs that deep. Making a fool of the elected officials where your company is headquartered isn’t consistent with an executive who plans to stick around.

If and when Leno learns the Mustang Mach-E is manufactured in Mexico, I suspect he won’t be laughing.

Reach Eric Starkman at: Beaumont  Beaumont employees and vendors are encouraged to reach out, with confidentiality assured.


Starkman: Detroit Free Press Puff Piece on Ford CEO Jim Farley Does Michigan a Disservice, Oct. 18

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