The relationship between journalists and the auto industry is straightforward for the most part.
Journalists are guided by laws that prevent defamation of character, and libel. But there’s also fairness, honesty, decency, respect and accuracy. Staying true to these basic tenets is what establishes credibility. It’s how we become a trusted source for industry news.
Since Automotive News Canada isn’t out to get anyone — judging by our full podcast roster of auto executives — the hope is that companies will be forthcoming with information and answers to basic questions.
Then there’s that awkward silence, when companies, or governments, clam up, don’t answer or return calls or emails, or sidestep the questions.
Ford Canada — one of the country’s largest automakers — ended the longstanding practice of publicly reporting sales by quarter. Instead, the company said, results will come once a year. They used to be reported monthly. Ford communication staff seemed puzzled why we would want to know the reason for ditching tradition (the only major automaker to do so,by the way). Ford chalked it up to corporate structure changes affecting North America, although Ford in the United States continues to report quarterly as well as monthly. The question of why then still remained.
To investigate the impact, we asked the federal government if it thought Ford Canada should continue quarterly reporting in the interest of transparency to the taxpayers who are helping fund the company’s $1.8-billion retooling of Oakville Assembly to build electric cars.
Fair question, but, predictably, the feds tooted their own horn while not ruffling Ford’s feathers: “The Government of Canada was pleased to work with Ford to secure Canada’s first electric vehicle (EV) production mandate. Our efforts helped secure 5,400 well-paying middle-class jobs across Ford’s production work force in Canada and will help grow Canada’s green economy. While we have enjoyed a productive relationship with Ford, the Government of Canada does not comment on the reporting practices of private entities, such as Ford.”
Here’s the significance: Since most automakers ended monthly sales reporting in Canada some years ago, quarterly reporting is the main lens through which to view sales performance and gauge the market in general. It’s one measure of a company’s health, especially significant when automakers are investing billions of dollars in their switch to EVs. Even if taxpayers don’t have a legal right to know how the company is performing, Ford should be especially transparent instead of withholding. It’s just good optics.
Being silent or evasive isn’t controlling the narrative; it actually has the opposite effect. Stories will still be written but without their voice. And they’re denying themselves a voice when there’s obviously good news to share. How can we forget the diversity success at Oshawa Assembly when General Motors hired 50 per cent women? We gushed as much as GM Canada did.
This communication situation is not strictly limited to Ford, but in this case it would be better to get out in front and say more. Maybe, as J.D. Power Canada’s Robert Karwel suggested in a roundabout way, Ford doesn’t want eyes on its electrification progress.
The transition to EVs, he said, is “a tough road” with “two steps forward and a few steps back along the way. As a result, I think some manufacturers want a little less spotlight on that.”
Regardless, there is no good reason not to, especially when Ford said it is still providing quarterly numbers to dealers.
We understand it’s not always easy — or speedy — for large companies with multiple layers of management to put themselves out there by engaging in conversation, which is why we went back to Ford to be sure there was nothing else to add. But rest assured, it’s news, and we’re going to write about it. Fairly, honesty, respectfully and accurately.