Starkman: Ford’s CEO Jim Farley is King of Safety Recalls in Auto Industry

January 03, 2024, 9:09 PM

The writer is a Los Angeles freelancer and former Detroit News business reporter. He blogs at

By Eric Starkman

Ford CEO Jim Farley serves as a great inspirational role model for the Detroit Lions on how to win championships.

CEO Jim Farley

Under Farley’s leadership, Ford for three straight years has led the automotive industry for safety recalls – no mean feat given that J.D. Power says that shoddy manufacturing in general is at a record high. Farley clearly isn’t one to rest on his laurels, as two business days into the New Year the NHTSA issued a significant recall on 112,000 Ford F-150 pickup trucks from the 2021-2023 model years.

Impacted vehicles are outfitted with Ford’s “Trailer Tow Max Duty” premium option package, which is supposed to improve towing capabilities. Unfortunately, the NHTSA says a critical rear axle hub bolt might “fatigue and break,” causing the vehicle to roll away while parked or a loss of drive power.

These issues can “increase the risk of a crash,” the NHTSA said.

How embarrassing. Imagine paying extra for a premium option responsible for a potential defect that could cause increased risk of a crash.

Farley also finished 2023 on a recall high note. As reported by USA Today, Ford in mid-December recalled 17,970 of its 2023 F-150s and its Super Duty pickups because the steering wheel clock spring may have an insufficient weld, causing a loss of electrical connection to the driver's frontal air bag and deactivating it. If the air bag does not deploy during a crash, it increases the risk of injury, the company said in a NHTSA report.

The F-150 is Ford’s cash cow. The Detroit Free Press recently paid homage to the vehicle with some free advertising masked as editorial content in a story headlined, “Ford F-Series’ sales dominance is ‘incredibly powerful American symbol,’” reinforcing Ford’s claim that it is “All In On  America.” Although Freep auto writer Phoebe Wall Howard is a first-rate reporter, occasionally she forgets her job is to question Ford’s messages, not publicize them.

Notably, in a smooch to Farley Wall Howard published two years ago, she featured Suzy Deering, then global chief marketing officer at Ford, likening Farley to a coach talking to his sports team. Here’s what Deering said about a talk Farley gave about the importance of electrifying the F-150.

"It was almost like a coach talking to a team, building them up before they were going into the game of their life," Deering was quoted as saying. "It quickly turned to, 'Are we leaning in as aggressively as we need to? Are we holding ourselves back because we don’t want to take the risk? Do we have the confidence?' It’s like he gets into a zone."

Despite her unabashed awe for Farley, Deering left Ford a year later.

The Lions last week were victimized by some bad officiating, and despite Farley’s superb motivational tactics, the electric F-150 Lightning also is experiencing some setbacks. Farley has been forced to slash the price on the vehicle and offer sweetheart financing deals, but there are few takers. Ford cut production of the vehicle because so few customers are willing to drive it off dealers’ lots.

Adding insult to injury, an independent automotive research firm called AMCI Testing recently dissed the electric Lightning after it fared poorly in fast charging tests.

“While Ford is to be commended for being a first mover in the electrified pickup market with the F-150 Lightning, it has many shortcomings that are now impacting its sales,” David Stokols, CEO of AMCI Testing’s parent company, AMCI Global, was quoted in the independent trade publication Ford Authority.  “We would expect the clean sheet, next generation F-150 Lightning to be a major step forward from the current generation, and it cannot come too soon.”


In another blow to Ford, the company’s electric Mustang, which the “All In On America” company proudly manufactures in Mexico, has lost its eligibility for lucrative tax breaks. The Mustang Mach-E has been piling up on dealers’ lots despite major price cuts and zero financing deals.

Is Farley laser-focused on fixing Ford’s formidable problems? Doesn’t appear so.

Coach Dan Campbell

On LinkedIn Wednesday, Farley was touting the second season of his podcast DRIVE and upcoming guests that includes singer-songwriter Kelly Clarkson. It might behoove Ford’s investors to consider that the Titanic’s band played on while that ship was sinking.

The Ford family owns the Lions, but let’s hope they don’t opt to replace coach Dan Campbell with Farley. The NFL franchise, which has never won a Super Bowl, has had too many Farley-types in its history.  Unlike Farley, Campbell is focused on a championship worth winning.

Reach the writer at Confidentiality and anonymity are assured.

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