The world of business has long been creative with feeble excuses. Even so, the explanation given by Tim Slatter, chairman of Ford in Britain, for slashing 1,300 jobs in the UK, 1,000 of them in product development, does take the biscuit. The company is moving towards a wholly electric fleet of cars by the end of the decade, he says, and as they are simpler cars they will need less product development.
Really? Electric cars may have fewer moving parts than their petrol equivalents and in that sense are less complicated. But they are also relatively novel, especially from a mass-market perspective. There are a great number of technological problems which have to be overcome before they can fulfil the same function as petrol and diesel cars. Their range is still far too short, they still take too long to recharge, they are far too pricey to buy. Their batteries are too heavy and bulky, and there are many issues to sort out regarding the degradation of batteries over time. The industry also has to master recycling – at present only around 5 per cent of them are recycled.
That is a pretty long list to be getting on with. You might think that a confident, ambitious company would be accelerating its spending in research and development at the moment in an effort to get ahead.
The truth is, Ford has been struggling. Globally, its profits fell unexpectedly in the 4th quarter of last year. Sales, its CEO admitted last week, were 100,000 down on what they should have been last year. Its performance has stuttered compared with its main rival in the US, General Motors. In Britain it was for years unthinkable not to have a Ford car in the top three best-selling models.