Interview – The president of Ford France returns, for Clubic, to the measures taken by the manufacturer since the start of containment and tells us more about what awaits his customers and employees in the coming weeks.

Like the aviation, tourism and catering sectors, the automobile has stalled since the official start of containment on March 17, due to the coronavirus. At Ford France, where there are 300 employees and several thousand network collaborators spread across the brand's 200 dealerships, we quickly decided to drastically reduce activity. A few weeks before the gradual lifting of containment in France, we discussed with Louis-Carl Vignon, president of Ford France, the measures taken by the manufacturer in the country, whether for its employees or its customers , current and future. Ford, which expects a sharp decline in the automotive market this year, does not intend to review its plans and maintains the planned release by the end of 2020 of 14 new electrified vehicles. Interview.

Interview with Louis-Carl Vignon, president of Ford France

Clubic: Ford employs over 300 people in France and can count on a large network of thousands of people. How many people still work with containment today? Has the company made the choice of partial unemployment for those who are stopped?

Louis-Carl Vignon : Around 6,000 people work for the Ford brand in France through the network. To stay within the framework of our teams, as we speak, we must have between 15 and 20% of people working. We are preparing to restart the activity. We will gradually go up again towards the end of the month. The field teams, since the concessions are closed, remain on short-time working.

"We must have between 15 and 20% of people who currently work with us"

Clearly, are jobs or will they be threatened in the long term at Ford France, because of the crisis?

Not at all. We had a very constructive approach with the social partners in the company. The employees have, in part, agreed to use their holidays. For others, it is therefore partial unemployment. Everyone lent themselves to the effort, of good war. Ford remains a family business, with family members always present, there is still this approach to protecting employees. So no, there is no one at risk of losing their job, and we hope that the market will start up fast enough to eliminate this risk in the long term.

Louis-Carl Vignon, President Ford France

Louis-Carl Vignon (© Ford)

How do you deal with containment? Is your task as president more difficult under these conditions?

It is not more difficult, it is above all very different. The fact of working in confinement absolutely reinforces the need to link with the teams. In my opinion, one of the risks of confinement is desocialization. From a business point of view, it is necessary to successfully maintain this link with employees. It is one of my priorities. And for that, we have daily, rather business, contact points that come back with a certain recurrence. We also organize meetings with all the collaborators of the company, generally on Monday, during which I share with them what is happening in the Ford world, the priorities, and then there are the questions / answers, in all transparency. It's the same with our network, our dealers. We must succeed in maintaining the link with them and make sure that we do not fall into a kind of lethargy, which is a real risk of confinement.

"The return to work, which should theoretically take place on May 11, will be gradual at Ford"

And on the other hand, it means being more precise, more concise in meetings. As much as a face-to-face meeting can last a little longer, as much when you're on the phone, you have to stay focused. Telework already existed at Ford. However, I must admit that we used it fairly little. The confinement will have been an opportunity to put it in place more significantly. The return to work, which should theoretically take place on May 11, will be gradual at Ford. Not everyone will suddenly come back to the office.

Ford proposed to the French Federation of Rescue and First Aid (FFSS) to make available Ford vehicles to support it during this health crisis. How many vehicles does this initiative involve? And above all: in what forms?

I am proud to work for the Ford company by seeing all that has been done in the world to fight against the epidemic, with in particular the manufacturing in the USA of masks, respirators, protective visors for the collaborators and the nursing staff. . In France, Ford loaned a utility vehicle to Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Landes) which is used to distribute food parcels. There is also this initiative with the FFSS which supports the SAMU teams in the field. We loaned 9 vehicles, Ford Puma Hybrid, Ford Ranger and Tourneo Custom, which can transport people in support of medical teams who have arrived from the provinces and work in the Paris region. Ford employees also volunteered to drive these vehicles. These initiatives, and others less publicized, were thus carried out without commercial aim but out of a sense of duty.

Have Ford France employees been affected by the Covid-19?

We began teleworking on Monday March 16, the day President Emmanuel Macron was announced (while confinement was not to begin until the following day). During the first month, we had no cases in France. A case was declared a week ago, without seriousness moreover, of a collaborator who had however respected the confinement. This proves that we must maintain the barrier measures. We have implemented a return-to-work protocol, with a number of barrier gestures, and a whole procedure to follow to ensure that people who arrive at the office in the morning will not be carrying the coronavirus.

"A delivery protocol" contactless delivery "via the FordPass application"

Can customers who ordered a vehicle before the crisis but who have not yet received it be able to have their vehicle delivered to their home?

There has been significant work on this since the beginning of April. We began to receive calls from customers who urgently needed to change vehicles, and from others who had already ordered and were waiting for their vehicle. We have implemented, with our concessions, a delivery protocol which I will call "contactless delivery", since we have the FordPass application, which communicates with the vehicle's modem and allows, for example, to go as far as opening the vehicle without using the keys. The protocol goes from the call to the customer, first to know if he is fine, to information about his vehicle: if he has arrived and if he wishes to take delivery. In this second case, he can receive it either in concession or at home. And in both cases, the vehicle is completely cleaned and protected with covers, on the steering wheel, the gear lever, the seats, etc. We have this ability to reassure our customers that the vehicle they are going to take possession of does not carry or carry the coronavirus. This protocol was implemented around ten days ago.

We have mobilized the staff so that everything is done in the best possible way, while respecting health recommendations. This is all the more important since we had a well-filled delivery book for two or three months of sales.

“To maintain social distance, we have created tutorials to help our customers to take control of their vehicle”

It should not be forgotten that there is a whole "handover" part of the vehicle for the customer. Before the coronavirus, this was done in the vehicle. The seller or the handler was seated next to the customer, to explain the characteristics, including technical, of the vehicle. Today, this is no longer possible, since we have to keep this social distance. We compensate for this by having set up, via our FordPass application, tutorials to help our customers. We adapt the procedures to respect social distancing, while ensuring customer satisfaction.

Do we have any idea when the production of vehicles will resume?

All European factories are shut down. Production is expected to resume in early May, but gradually. Employees will not all arrive at the factory at the same time on the same day. There will be a whole procedure in place with a questionnaire to fill in, a daily temperature reading and the necessary personal protective equipment.

Ford launched its e-sports team in August 2019. In early March, the company announced its desire to create a virtual racing car, Team Fordzilla P1, by soliciting the general public. Where is this project today?

Here, we associate the manufacturer, its design team, the Fordzilla team and the entire community of gamers who, for the first time, can collaborate in the creation of this vehicle. The community can express themselves on eight characteristics of the vehicle. For example, we asked participants if they wanted the car to be more of a single-seater, or a car with two seats. The majority leaned towards the second option. The same goes for the engine, namely whether it should be put in the front or in the central position, whether it should be visible or hidden, whether the cockpit should be open or not. More than 220,000 people actually participated in this design brief, which will allow designers to design this vehicle. The project is a little bit behind schedule, the coronavirus crisis having passed by there for entry into phase 2, the design team having had to put in place a social distancing as well. This project promises to explore technical and aesthetic solutions which today seem impossible to us in reality, but which tomorrow may be possible.

“In 2020, we will launch 14 electrified vehicles. Transit is still scheduled for 2021 "

Has the electric version of the Transit van, scheduled for 2021, been pushed back to 2023? Do you have any information on this?

2020 is a very big year for Ford, since we are launching no less than 14 electrified vehicles: private and commercial. Before confinement, we were able to launch the new Puma Hybrid. Just before confinement, we started to receive the new Ford Kuga in Plug-in Hybrid and in Diesel Hybrid. We will resume launch where we launched it. There is also a range of utility vehicles. Always before confinement, we received the first Transit Custom Plug-in Hybrid or Tourneo Custom Plug-in Hybrid. The calendar does not change for this year, except for a delay of a few months, still due to the crisis.


Kuga Plug-In Hybrid (© Ford)

With regard to the large Transit, the two tonnes that will be fully electric, the launch is still confirmed in 2021 throughout Europe. The questions are due to the fact that the vehicle will be launched in the United States, which was not planned at the start. And it is this launch in the US which should arrive from the end of 2022.

So the 14 electrified vehicles to be launched by the end of 2020 will be launched this year?

They will all be launched this year, indeed. With this one shift of one to two months depending on the vehicle.

Is the goal of one Ford out of two electrified by 2022 still relevant?

It is perhaps all the more feasible that if we look at the crisis scenario in which we are, the market segments that hold or resist the best, these are commercial vehicles. Companies also have more planned renewal cycles than individual customers. There is also a whole body of legislation that pushes companies to electrify their fleet. From this point of view, there is no reason why it should change. At the level of individual customers, we have made sure not to favor a single technology but to have a techno available according to each use.

“In China, there is a rejection of public transport, which is more vector of the coronavirus. People are turning to more personal transportation solutions ”

Do not be fooled, the crisis will create difficulties, but the fact of having for example a hybrid vehicle like the Ford Puma makes that a Ford Puma hybrid is cheaper than would be an electric Ford Puma. Our target of one vehicle in two electrified by 2022 remains unchanged. And it's a safe bet that it will work.

Where I think there may be a little impact this year is on all-electric. It will depend on the measures the government puts in place to support the auto industry. What China teaches us, having been affected by the epidemic before us, is that there is a real increased demand from customers to buy a vehicle. There is a rejection of public transport, which is more vector of the coronavirus. People are turning to more personal transportation solutions. A private vehicle is. This crisis may create a number of opportunities in the medium term.

You launched a new offer for your customers this week …

This Wednesday, April 22, we launched an offer called "free spirit." We want customers, when they come to Ford, to be free to take delivery of their vehicle, to do an after-sales operation thanks to all the safety standards and protocols that we have in place. . This offer is materialized by the three plus three: three months offered and three months deferred which allow you to start paying for your vehicle only in six months. It is valid for all the vehicles we have in stock, plus the Kuga Plug-in Hybrid, now launched and whose communication will start towards the end of the week or at the beginning of next week. We believe that this offer can really meet customer demands.

"We are launching a free spirit offer that will allow us to start paying for our vehicle only in six months"

In conclusion, do you expect a sharp drop in sales in 2020?

The impact of the crisis will be quite strong. Today we think the market will shrink by around 25%. And this with what we have today as information. It is clear that the modalities of this progressive deconfinement will impact this fact. Even though the market was slightly down, before we entered the coronavirus crisis. It will not be a good year for the automotive market. Hence the importance of responding to the interests of our customers.

Thank you for answering all of our questions Louis-Carl Vignon.

Thank you, and according to the expression used, take care of yourself and stay at home.