Two years ago, two of the Big Three automakers declared bankruptcy and accepted federal bailout funds. The American auto industry had been in a steady decline, but suddenly it fell through the floor.
“As a young boy growing up in Detroit, if anybody had ever said to me that I would live to see the day when Chrysler and GM declared bankruptcy, I would have said, ‘no chance,’” William Clay Ford Jr. ’79 told an audience of about a hundred people at the Friend Center Feb. 15.
Ford Motor Company was the only automaker that refused federal funds, and William Ford, the company’s executive chairman and speaker at the annual G.S. Beckwith Gilbert ’63 lecture, could not be happier about the decision not to.
“We wanted to chart our own course, and we thought we had the ability to do so,” Ford said.
The company received thousands of letters praising the decision, and when conditions began to improve, Ford was able to pump money into research and development so that the company wouldn’t just survive, but would emerge stronger.
“There’s no point in going through all of this hardship if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Ford said.
“When the fog started to lift a little bit, we had lots of new stuff to sell, lots of new technology that people found interesting.”
Ford said that during his undergraduate years, he became an environmentalist and decided he wanted to change Ford and its vehicles to reflect those views. Though he faced opposition, his push for cleaner vehicles and manufacturing is finally coming true. Hybrid gas-electric cars are now rolling off the assembly lines at Ford’s factories, and according to Ford, manufacturing has changed, too.
“It’s no longer belting out pollutants into the sky with sort of Darwinian conditions inside of plants and a sweatshop mentality. It’s become green, high-tech, and what we’re making is going to be green and high-tech,” Ford said. “I think that’s a much more appealing view of what manufacturing is and should be.”