Jim Hackett, Ford president and CEO this past five months, is in town to lead a revolution. In a nice way.
This is his first official visit to the UK: he’s here to open Ford’s new European Smart Mobility office, artfully located in the middle of a collection of technology start-ups and university satellites that have grown up in a collection of ex-Olympics buildings called Here East, near Stratford in distinctly non-leafy north-east London.
Here, Ford’s brightest and best technical talents will co-operate with others in similar cells around the globe to build what Hackett likes to call “smart cars for smart cities”. Electrification and autonomy are most certainly on the agenda because change is Hackett’s preoccupation. “The future is not a fantasy,” he likes to say. “As my old football coach used to say, you get better or worse, but you don’t stay the same.”
I’m standing with a knot of hacks, cameramen and Ford suits, waiting outside the new HQ for Hackett to arrive in an experimental Transit range-extender – in essence, an electric van that uses the celebrated 1.0-litre petrol three-cylinder engine to drive a generator. It is surely bound for production. He emerges impressed, although he looks a bit jet-lagged and momentarily nonplussed by the extravagance of our attention. It’s disarming to see that he doesn’t expect to be fêted. “I’m what they call a reluctant CEO,” he says. “I didn’t need all this to happen to be happy...”