DETROIT — Cryptic. Enigmatic. Man of mumbo-jumbo.
A lot of what's written about Ford CEO Jim Hackett, now in his role for 30 months, is as much about the challenge of understanding him as what he says.
But one thought stood out at the tail end of an interview on the 12th floor of Ford Motor Co.'s world headquarters last week, where the mahogany executive chambers of yore have been replaced by compact, glass-walled offices and wide-open meeting areas.
Car prices can't keep rising forever, he says. And the way to fix that problem is through what he calls "reductive design." He notes that Ford still has some cars with CD players when most everyone is carrying around a library of music on their phones.
And those ballyhooed garage door openers built into car headliners? Seventy percent of drivers who have them don't touch them.
"We're beginning to look at things that customers don't use at all," he said.
And because vehicles are becoming increasingly connected, "we can actually tell what they're not even interacting with inside the vehicle and take content out."
That should make the nation's car dealers take note, now that the average transaction price for a new vehicle has topped $33,000. The trend is stoking fears of a gadget-fascinated and increasingly regulated industry pricing many of its customers out of the market.
"I'm really optimistic that the paradigm of everything just getting more expensive is actually going to get disrupted — fairly soon, actually," he said.
At 64, Hackett can't use the word "soon" lightly. He's well aware of the career clock — especially since he retired once already. That was in 2014, after a 19-year run leading office furniture maker Steelcase.
He gave every indication that he's poised to reap the gains of the early pain at Ford — a tenure marked by restructuring, the challenge of connecting with new colleagues, a declining stock price and a return to junk bond status in the eyes of Moody's. He knows he still needs to earn the respect of Wall Street, where success is measured by a different gauge than his own.
And he says Ford is in a position to absorb the jolt from an inevitable U.S. recession, thanks in large part to the partnerships he has forged with Rivian, Mahindra, Volkswagen and Argo AI.
His wife tells him his job is incomplete. "You got to stay there and see your good, good work come to fruition," he quotes her as saying.
On the other side of the coin, there are deserving lieutenants, perhaps with limited patience, waiting for a shot at his seat.
Creating an enduring game-changer or two — such as a pathway to lower car prices — would be one way to extend his run while avoiding the messy CEO transitions that have been all too common at Ford over the years.