Integrity matters much more than bragging rights
Mark Fields has many tasks ahead as the new CEO of Ford Motor Co., but he needs to add one more to his to-do list: End a disturbing pattern that values bragging rights ahead of integrity.
Since 2010, Ford has adopted a new way to measure payload capacities: It subtracts the weight of standard items such as the spare tire, jack, center console and even the radio from each of its Super Duty pickups.
Deleting those items lowers the pickups' weight below the stated base curb weight, and that allows the maximum payload to be stated as a higher number.
Ford defends the practice by contending that it's possible for customers to order vehicles such as a $55,140 2015 F-450 Crew Cab XL without a spare tire or center console. But is that likely? Ford says it sold 9,000 heavy-duty pickups in 2013 with the center console deleted.
And as we learned after our July 28 story was published, General Motors adopted a similar method for the 2014 model year. A spokesman says GM did it to make "apples-to-apples" comparisons with Ford.
What numerical edge would prompt an automaker to sacrifice its integrity? In the case of the Ford F-450, it is a payload capacity number 3 percent higher than an honest measurement.
If this were an isolated incident, we might be willing to write off Ford's payload math as merely the work of an overeager marketer.
But it's not an isolated incident; it's the latest in a string of questionable Ford practices.
Look at the damage Ford did to its credibility last year by restating the mileage of the C-Max Hybrid. A cynic might say the original claims -- later disavowed at a cost of lost sales and millions of dollars -- were motivated by a desire for bragging rights over Toyota.
Or consider what happened after Hyundai said the 2011 Elantra sedan had "best-in-class" front legroom under the SAE International standard. Ford's consumer advertising for the 2012 Focus began using a metric it called Front Legroom (Maximum) that was 1.8 inches longer than the number established under the SAE standard -- and one-tenth of an inch longer than the Elantra's measurement.
Ford dropped the metric after news stories drew attention to the change.
Ford is still enjoying the goodwill it earned by avoiding the 2009 bankruptcies that tripped up its U.S. rivals. Sadly, in its zeal to make itself look good, Ford risks supplanting that image with one that will not only hurt Ford but mar the entire industry as well.