Kyle Johnson
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Accurate Headline: Ford Seems to Have an Issue with Headlines Covering Elimination of Sedans

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Jim Farley

Ford Executive Vice President and President of Global Markets Jim Farley spoke with Ford retirees in May

Being frank (“Hi, Frank. My name is dad,” said the dad who has jokes), one of the demographics most likely to be affected by Ford’s decision to remove sedans from its lineup in North America are older car buyers returning to the market. Though sedans are appealing to millennials and drivers from Generation Z, numbers suggest that they’re gravitating more toward SUVs and crossovers and will likely only continue to do so in droves if Ford manages to create new products with entry-level price points. What Ford really has to worry about are the older folks who are set in their ways and might sooner opt for a sedan offered by a competitor than drive off in an SUV out of brand loyalty.

It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that Ford Executive Vice President and President of Global Markets Jim Farley recently visited the Dearborn Country Club for a Q&A with a group of Ford retirees. While there were many topics of discussion that were touched upon, one of the biggest matters at hand was the end of the Ford sedan as we know it. And, boy, was the discussion ever productive.

“Jim helped us to understand the rationale behind that, because most of what we get to read in the media is headlines and a lot of the details aren’t in there,” said Bob Natkin, one of the attendees. “Once you understand how the company’s product plans are going, it’s a lot more palatable. It’s always good to get a glimpse of what’s coming so you can understand not only what’s going away, but what’s coming in.”

Oh. The media. So, we’re really going all in on that, are we?

Last month, Ford Executive VP Bill Ford griped about media coverage of the decision to discontinue the Fiesta, Fusion, and Taurus as well as the Focus sedan, saying that “the headlines look like Ford’s retreating.” Except, if you’re talking about sedans — which we are — Ford is quite literally retreating.

Confusingly, the complaint seems to be levied primarily against headlines and not the actual stories in earnest. This suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what a headline is and what it accomplishes. A headline only introduces the reader to a larger story that follows, and it is not typically intended to encompass every aspect of a story. A headline that tells the reader that Ford is getting rid of all its sedans is not sensationalist, nor inaccurate, nor even inherently negative in tone — it merely iterates what is arguably the most notable aspect of the story at hand.

Retirees attend a Q&A with Jim Farley at Dearborn Country Club

*insert a joke about getting off a lawn here*

Natkin said that “most of what we get to read in the media is headlines.” A good response to that statement would be to ask Bob why that’s the case. If there’s anything that the last two years have proven, or if there’s something to be taken from clickbait and sensationalist headlines that have been surging since “This One Weird Trick” became a thing, it’s that headlines are not always to be taken at face value and some stories should be met with a skepticism that demands deeper reading.

To get the full story, Bob, you often have to … you know … read the story. Consume it. Comprehend it. Think critically about it. Then, if you feel like what you’re getting isn’t the full picture or has been in some way skewed or manipulated, seek out a second source. Doing the legwork for yourself and asking questions is how you avoid electing racist megalomaniacs to power on the back of propaganda campaigns — not that we’d know the first thing about that.

If “most of what [you] get to read in the media is headlines,” then you need to open an article every once in a while, put on your bifocals, and make sure you get the whole story. Does the refusal to read anything past a 70-character headline mean I can call Bob Natkin and folks of his ilk lazy baby boomers? Asking for a generation that has been maligned for not saving money they can’t get and not having children they can’t afford to raise.

Let’s be real. Eliminating an entire body style from your lineup in one fell swoop, particularly when those products have long been institutions of your brand image, does two things: It freaks out people who are used to Ford sedans being a thing and creates headlines. In the scheme of things, a headline that’s at worst skeptical of the decision is low on the list of potential negative consequences, which makes it strange that this seems to be a hill for Ford.

A solid way for Ford to reclaim the narrative would be to start showing off some of those new products it’s talking about. Farley told the retirees,“We just can’t tell everyone what those great products are yet.” Until it can, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the tangible subtraction will be the bigger story than the addition of an unknown quantity. So long as Ford actually delivers on its promise of “reinventing the American car,” here’s betting it’ll see plenty of glowing headlines that people like Bob Natkin will read and somehow process as being the entirety of the story.