Ford touts American patriotism amid heated election, racial protests

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Incoming Ford CEO Jim Farley (left) and Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. pose with a 2021 F-150 during an event Sept. 17, 2020 at the company’s Michigan plant that produces the pickup.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DEARBORN, Mich. — Amid a heated presidential election and polarizing protests over racial injustice, Ford Motor is betting there’s still enough American pride to draw customers in with a new “buy American” ad campaign that touts the company’s investments in the U.S.

The automaker on Thursday touted its American jobs and recent investments of about $1.5 billion as it launched the new campaign, called “Built for America,” ahead of production beginning later this month of its next-generation Ford F-150 pickup at a plant in metro Detroit.

Automakers typically try to stay away from anything that could be considered political during a presidential election year, but Ford executives say whether President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden are in the White House next year, both parties are behind American manufacturing.

“We can’t have a strong economy or a strong democracy without a strong manufacturing base, and I’ve sat with presidents of both parties who understand this,” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said during an event Thursday at the company’s F-150 plant outside Detroit. “This is not and should not be a political issue, but it does have to be a national mission. There does have to be a sense of urgency about it.”

Ford, great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, said the coronavirus pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of auto manufacturing to the country, as automakers were able to quickly mobilize to produce personal protection equipment, ventilators and other supplies.

“In the past six months, it shows why it is so important to have a strong manufacturing base in America,” he said. “More than any other automaker, Ford is built for America,” he said, referring to the company’s new tagline.

To back up its claims, Ford commissioned Boston Consulting Group to do an analysis of its contributions, particularly that of the F-Series pickup lineup, to America. It found that at about $42 billion in revenue the F-Series is among the largest consumer products in the nation. It ranks behind Apple’s iPhone but ahead of Android OS devices, Disney and all major sporting leagues, according to the study.

‘It’s who we are’

When asked whether the company was concerned about the ad campaign being spun into political messaging, incoming Ford CEO Jim Farley said: “No, it’s who we are. We bet on America and American jobs and that’s what we talked about today. We’re all in.” 

Despite higher labor costs for producing vehicles in America, Farley and other executives said the company believes manufacturing in the U.S. is best for Ford’s long-term business strategy. It’s likely a decision some investors may not agree with as the company could potentially cut costs if it imported more vehicles to the U.S.

Kumar Galhotra, Ford president of the Americas and international markets, described it as a choice all companies must make. “Others have made a different choice,” he said during a media briefing Wednesday ahead of the event. “We make a choice to stay here, to have higher manufacturing in the U.S.”

More than 75% of the vehicles Ford sold in the U.S. last year were domestically assembled in the country, according to the company. General Motors was projected at more than 60%, while Fiat Chrysler was estimated at about 54%. The figures fluctuate annually based on production cycles as well as sales.

While Ford imports fewer vehicles from other countries to the U.S. than its crosstown rivals, it does import vehicles from Mexico, India and other countries.

Ford says in its new ad campaign that it has the most hourly American employees of any automaker; however, GM employs the most workers overall, according to public filings. 

Ad campaign

Ford’s new ad campaign focuses on its history as an American company as well as the importance of its employees and vehicles to the country.

“We are both at our best, this country and this company, when we build for every single American,” narrates actor Bryan Cranston in an ad called “Built Together.” “We were built in America, that’s why we ‘Build for America.'”

The campaign was partially inspired by the company’s “Project Apollo,” which produced the personal protection equipment and medical supplies, according to officials.

Aside from assisting with medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic, Ford executives also have spoken out against systemic racism in the U.S. and promised to lead by example by promoting “a fair, just and inclusive culture” for Ford’s employees.

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