When he was 14 and spending the summer in California, he bought a black, 1965 fastback Mustang, rebuilt the engine, then traded a plane ticket for gas money and drove to Michigan — without a license — to visit his parents. To this day, he said, some of the biggest headaches in his marriage come from haggling a yearly budget for his racing hobby.
Now, Farley is reckoning with an evolving industry and helping lead Ford's adoption of the electrified technology that might usurp the gasoline engines that powered the joyrides of his youth.
And he thinks he's found a way to blend both worlds.
"I've gone through a personal journey on this one," Farley, 56, said last week at the Automotive News World Congress here. "I'm, in a way, as old school as you get when it comes to cars. But after driving an electric car, it's pretty awesome."
Ford has fallen behind in the electrified vehicle race. It killed the C-Max hybrid and Focus Electric that defined its early foray into the market, and has seen competitors such as the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 grab headlines and generate buzz.
"In a way, we had an advantage of watching what happened the first time around," Farley said. "What customers have told us is, 'Just give us the good stuff. We just want great product.' "
Ford is investing $11 billion in electrified vehicles and plans to introduce 40 electrified models through 2022. They include a Mustang-inspired battery EV that will get a 300-mile range.
"This is the one vehicle I'm most excited about," Farley said. In an investor presentation last week, he compared the still-unnamed crossover to a "rocket ship."
Farley said Ford is moving away from positioning its electrified vehicles as eco-friendly green machines and focusing more on their performance capabilities.
"If you give people more than just fuel economy ... we think there's real opportunity in electrification," he said.
Ford plans to focus its electrification strategy on commercial vehicles and passionate nameplates, such as Mustang.
Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's product boss, said last week that the automaker's battery-electric offerings will be "contribution margin positive."
"This is not a strategic action to make people feel good," he said. "It's going to have to deliver its demand on capital."
Charging times remain a major hurdle, Farley said. Range anxiety, especially in cold weather states, could also hurt the adoption of the technology. Still, he thinks the EV adoption curve will ramp up drastically within the next five years.
"It's not perfect, but no transition is really perfect," Farley said. "I think the charging is an issue, but if people love the cars, we'll work through that."