Exiting Ford CEO Jim Hackett Enjoys Bronco ‘Gotcha’ on GM’s Barra

Customers clamor for new Ford off-roader while crosstown rival can only dream about what might have been with its own Chevrolet Blazer.

Ford’s Jim Hackett and Jim Farley

Jim Hackett may not have accomplished all he wanted to as CEO of Ford Motor for more than three years, a tenure that is set to end October 1 when he gives way to Jim Farley. But say this for him: He finally got into the head of Mary Barra, CEO of cross-town rival General Motors.

And Hackett did it with the Ford Bronco, arguably the biggest new-product sensation coming from any Detroit Three automaker in the last several years. The all-new vehicle with the familiar nameplate is aimed squarely at the hugely popular Jeep Wrangler, the off-road icon that Bronco resembles. But just as important for Ford’s purposes is that there is no comparable new GM entry in a segment that is increasingly popular with American consumers.

GM had its chance to be fielding a competitor to the new Bronco about right now, auto mavens say. But Barra, or someone below her, made the decision to forego it. Instead, GM put a new skin on its Chevy Blazer platform to make it just another sporty midsize crossover. And today, according to media reports, GM’s chief remains frosted that the company made such an obvious misstep, one that surely will hurt America’s biggest automaker as the nascent industry recovery from Covid-19 takes shape.

“No less than CEO Mary Barra, I’m told, tersely reminded [GM] senior product planners as much in a meeting amid [the] Bronco brouhaha,” recently wrote Daniel Howes, car columnist for the Detroit News.

The new Bronco outside the New York Stock Exchange

Barra is right to be looking enviously at the vehicle that might mark the singular achievement of Hackett’s time at the helm of Ford. Bronco was so broadly awaited because it marks Ford’s departure into a fresh vehicle platform that leads with its adaptability to going off-road and serving as the platform for adventuring by younger consumers, with fishing and towing equipment among the more than 200 Ford-approved accessories available. Ford also will host events such as a “Bronco Off-Roadeo” event in Austin, Texas, next summer, where owners will be schooled in off-roading – and network with other Bronco aficionados.

Ford already has logged 165,000 reservations for the two- and four-door Bronco since its launch last month in the form of $100 refundable deposits. That’s not exactly the hand-raising level of, say, a new Tesla model, but it’s very indicative of strong consumer enthusiasm for the long-awaited remake of O.J. Simpson’s favorite vehicle.

At a launch event recently, Hackett said that he felt like a “proud dad” about Bronco, whose ultimate design and configuration he “got his hands dirty” influencing.

Meanwhile, a couple of years ago GM’s brain trust shied away from remaking its venerable Blazer nameplate – which had an original reputation as an off-road beast – as a fresh take on the Wrangler proposition. The result, as the new Blazer has taken to the field, has been blistering criticism from car enthusiasts. TopSpeed, for instance, published this headline: “Ford’s revealing of the 2021 Bronco just proved that GM has no idea what it’s doing.”

Barra will answer, of course, and it appears that an upcoming all-electric GMC Hummer will be the start of a tardy off-road expansion by GM. In the meantime, Hackett can enjoy a big “gotcha” as he drives off into the sunset at Ford.