Jim Farley: Driving Ford's Future

Inside the Car Collection and the Mind of Ford's VP of Global Marketing, Sales and Service


  • Jim Farley: Driving Ford's Future Picture

    Jim Farley: Driving Ford's Future Picture

    Jim Farley is Ford's vice president of global marketing, sales and service. He's also a complete car nut. | December 19, 2011

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Twice a week Jim drives a chopped and lowered, primer-finished '34 Ford five-window coupe to work. It's the real deal with a full-race supercharged flathead and a set of pipes you can hear from half a mile away. It's also the only hot rod in Ford's executive parking lot.

Jim is Jim Farley, the Ford Motor Company's fast-moving vice president of global marketing, sales and service. He's an auto executive. A captain of industry. Suit and tie. Boardroom. Big expense account. The whole deal. But he's also a motorhead. A car collector. A vintage racer. And a hot-rodder.

And yes, that is the latest issue of The Rodder's Journal sitting on his desk.

In the Blood
Five years ago, Farley was a superstar at Toyota, where he successfully launched Scion. Then he was tapped by Ford CEO Alan Mulally to invigorate Ford's brands, and find innovative ways to sell them. Relocating to Dearborn, Michigan, Jim took on the monumental task of getting Ford and Lincoln (and briefly Mercury) back on track.

Farley had the genes for the job. His family's association with Ford Motor Company goes back 96 years. Jim's grandfather was Henry Ford's 389th employee. "He started in the Highland Park Plant, then moved to The Rouge, where he became a finance manager, working at the plant where my '34 was built. My grandfather later became a Ford dealer on Detroit's East Side. So we have a long history with Ford."

"When I was 15, in 1977," he confesses, "I got a job illegally working on the West Coast in a Ford engine remanufacturing plant that was owned by a friend of my grandfather's. It was a way for me to get to know about engines, and to start getting connected to the industry.

"That summer, I met a guy from Sunrise Ford. They had a program where you could build a 1964.5 Mustang right at the dealership. They had about 100 junked Mustangs in the back of the lot. I sold my plane ticket back to Michigan, bought one and lived in that Mustang for most of the summer. I rebuilt the engine, then I drove it back home... with no license and no insurance, much to my parents' surprise."

The Collection
Farley's got a garage full of cool Ford stuff now, like his 1965 Shelby GT350. "It was the first and purest Mustang that was modified by [Carroll] Shelby. It's like a racecar for the street. Mine had one of the slowest times in the last Cannonball Run in 1979. Brock Yates and Rick Kopec [president of the Shelby American Automobile Club] drove it. They claimed they were off-duty patrolmen — they'd taken a badge from a friend — but that scam didn't work. They got pulled over, spent a few hours in a Pennsylvania jail and were never in contention. I love that car, and this is really cool; it was restored by [ex-racer] Art Chrisman.

"I also have CSX 2531, my 1964 USRRC Competition 289 Cobra. It was Ken Miles' car. I race it when I can. To get it, I sold a car I wanted to keep forever, my black-on-black, with black wire wheels, 289 street Cobra. This guy and I had become friends. He was dying and he said, 'I want this to go to the right person. And you need to race it.' The first time I had it on the track was at Road America [Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin] where it had last raced.

"Then I have a Dave Wagner-built Kirkham Motorsports aluminum-bodied 427 Cobra that we worked on for two years. Every piece of that car is custom made. It looks like a bone-stock 427. It's dark blue, with a black interior and matte black wheels. No hoop, no scoop, no side pipes. It's just a nasty mother%$#*&r. It's got a Jack Roush 511-cid low-compression motor with 750 pound-feet of torque and a Tremec five-speed. On a 100-degree day, that thing will run at 160 degrees. It is so f%$*%g fast, in any gear. It's like a hot rod.

"And I have a new Boss 302 Laguna Seca, Chassis #2. It's matte black, and it's got a black wrap with black-painted wire wheels. I'm putting a Ford racing supercharger on it. I think we're gonna get close to 750 horsepower. I only use it for track days."

Jim also has an original steel '32 Ford roadster body and frame that's being built up as a '50s-era Indy-inspired highboy, by Dave Simard's East Coast Custom in Leominster, Massachusetts. "It's not a car yet, but with a new 4.6 Ford [modified to look like the Hilborn-injected, C&T Automotive OHV V8 from the cover of Hot Rod in 1955], it'll be bitchin' when it's finished.

"My wife Lia [her real name is Cornelia] owns a 1987 BMW 325iC convertible she's had since new. We fooled around in that car when we were dating," he smiles, "so she's kept it all this time. That's the only non-Ford we own."

Wants More
But Jim's not done yet. "I would like a Series 1, 2 or 3 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT with a Nardi shifter, no wheel covers and some nice Hella rally lights. I'd like to buy [Road & Track photographer] John Lamm's car. We've talked but nothing's happened. You can dream, right? I need one Italian car.

"For a fancy prewar car, I'd like a custom-bodied '30s-era KA or KB Lincoln, ideally a 12-cylinder. It has to be a coupe; I like coupes. So it could be a LeBaron Coupe or a Brunn Convertible Victoria, with that beautiful folding top. I love those cars. I work for Ford, so I've gotta have a classic Lincoln.

"Finally, I'd love a Total Performance Package Ford GT40, but it would be a street car. That will probably never happen, but you can dream. And that would probably do it."

In the Glass House
"In an unexpected way, I think my love for cars helps me do my job better. Because like any business, the car companies can be frustrating and you get upset sometimes. But my love of the product allows me to come back in the next day with the same level of engagement and enthusiasm. I think there's a fundamental enabler that connects old cars and new cars. That's one piece.

"The other piece is that the older I've gotten, the more I appreciate the diversity of the hobby, and that reinforces for me the diversity of the new car customer. The most important thing is that everything we invent has already been invented. So I can go to the Gilmore Car Museum and I can pretty much find everything that we're bragging about coming out with now...in a different form. The innovation in the early first 20 years of our industry was un-frigging believable. That is always a challenge for me.

"I'm now at Ford, which means we democratize technology and we bring it to the average person. So what do we want to democratize? Passive safety? Active safety? In-car entertainment? Powertrain technology? There are a lot of choices where you can make your bet. Those bets are already out there. What I mean by that, is it reminds us that our role, our legacy, how people have enjoyed our products — that's still the same."

The Product
Asked if he has to be a car guy in his job to really do it well, Farley replies: "I think it's much more challenging. My job, at the end of the day, is that of an innovator. I have to drive change through the company. Part of it is you're promising things to customers that you don't yet have perfectly thought out. So it really does help to love what you do. You get that extra 20 percent out. Like when I present a car to journalists, I know that 20 percent helps. Journalists will say, 'you know, he gets it. So if he really likes the car...' But sometimes, it's not that exciting. And you can read us."

Here's where being a car guy really helps. Jim's proud of "programs like the Raptor pickup, the Boss 302 Mustang. These would never have seen the light of day if Derrick [Kuzak] and I were not on the same page. Derrick is a car guy. He's a different kind of car guy than I am but he's crazy in love with automobiles.

"Probably the most important car for me is Fiesta. It's not fancy, but the reason why I say that is, it's what Ford does on a good day. It's taking a car that everyone can afford and making it great to look at, really fun to drive, with cool in-car technology, world-class fuel efficiency, and putting it all in one package, where people say, 'Now that is really fun to drive; that is really fun to own.' To do it in the most affordable car we have, that's cool. It's easier [for more expensive cars] where you've got more money [to work with] and a bigger checkbook."

The Future
Asked if he thought that the cars Ford is making today and tomorrow are going to have the same, long-lasting appeal of some of these "classics" we all admire, Farley paused to think:

"I don't know. I don't know that any of us know enough to know that because today, the way cars are consumed and recycled, the durability of the cars now, the fact that they last 200,000 or 300,000 miles without a lot of problems means that a Merkur XR4Ti or a Ford RS200, cars that we didn't sell a lot of, will become valuable someday. I look at cars like the original Audi TT, that first year. I think that's going to be a collectible car. And I think a Focus RS will be one. Some kid's going to be dreaming about owning a 20-year-old Raptor 20 years from now."

Farley believes, "The days are over where mainstream cars can have the same impact that our original Mustang had, where you sell a million units and everybody falls in love with them. But I hope that's not true. Every day I naively go into the design studio thinking we're gonna find the next thing. Our industry used to have 20 or 30 models. So one model could be a specialty car with high volume. Today we have something like 400 models in the U.S. So what are the chances of one of those 400 selling a million copies? Even a Mini Cooper, which is a fantastic car, is not a high-volume car. The chances of those [factors] intersecting, like they did in 1950 or 1960 — when they built the cars that I love? [That's] very unlikely. But that doesn't stop me from believing that it can't be done.

"One of the cars that could surprise us as a collectible is the Transit Connect. I think the commercial vehicles are authentic. Ford sedan deliveries from the '40s were used up and thrown away. Today they're very collectible."

Turning reflective, Farley says, "Realistically, I'm in the last third of my career. What we could see, in our generation, or two or three later, is the end of the combustible engine car as a collectible item. My question to myself is, What's gonna happen, when our lives are filled with electrified vehicles, and how will we look back on these IC engine products? Will they make it different? Will they be cooler? Will they live together? Will passion for the hobby be changed? Where will we get our fuel?"

Sustainability
Warming to his subject, he continues, "I know my son Jamieson — he's 4 and a half now; he will learn to drive in an electrified vehicle. He will not have the same emotion about a V8, about doin' a burnout. So I'm not sure. But I am concerned about what's going to happen 40 or 50 years from now. The problem is not the IC engine; it's the fuel. But no one's working on it. How many hobbyists whose whole extracurricular life is centered around their love for the automobile are wondering: 'How do we create a sustainable hobby?'

"Sure, they're concerned about ethanol. But it's short-sighted. In my generation, I'm wondering if I'm gonna be that isolated weird guy with the Roman Chariot collection, 'Hey, that guy down the street has those Roman chariots, and the horses eat the oats and they've got rock wheels. Have you seen those? They're really cool.'

"I'm thinking, this is my 427 Cobra, and in my mind I'm imagining my wife, with her blond hair, goin' down the coast. And they're thinking: 'He's an archaeologist.' I know this is provocative, maybe it's paranoia, but who is gonna work on these cars? Miles Collier [who owns the Collier Collection in Naples, Florida] is doing a good job working on the sustainability of our collections. But that's not enough. These cars roll; they move. We want to enjoy them together. We want to drive 'em to meet with other people. We're gonna have to think through all that.

"I know there's that school in Kansas [MacPherson College] that offers a degree in car restoration. I've known about the [Collectors Foundation] scholarship awards. But we've got to do much more. Not enough of us are asking that essential question. So when we're all gone, and the cars are sitting there in the garage, what's it about? It's the memories and the friendships, of course, but it's also about making sure other people have the opportunity to enjoy life like we have...and giving them that choice."

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