US auto giant Ford Motor Company has signalled the start of a new chapter for its business in Australia, with the appointment of a global electric vehicle executive, Kay Hart, to head up operations Down Under.
In what could only be good news for Australia’s flagging EV market, Ford announced on Monday that Hart – who was most recently the auto-maker’s global BEV (battery electric vehicle) manager, distribution & digital experience – had been named president and CEO, Ford Australia and New Zealand.
Hart – who replaces outgoing CEO Graeme Whickman – will be based in Melbourne, and will report to Peter Fleet, who was group vice president and president of Ford Asia Pacific.
But will she bring an electric vehicle focus to the market in Australia?
In an emailed response to RenewEconomy, Ford Australia said the new CEO is looking forward to working with the FCAI (Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries) and the greater industry on a broad range of opportunities.
“The discussion around EVs will be part of that,” a company spokesperson said.
Ford’s regional boss, Peter Fleet, said in a statement on Monday that Hart was “a proven leader, highly motivated by consumer insights and dealer relations.
“With strong knowledge and relationships in Australia and New Zealand, Kay will be a wonderful addition to our leadership team and a strong advocate for our customers and dealers.”
Given Hart’s most recent experience in Ford’s “Team Edison” – which focuses on rapidly designing and implementing customer-focused BEV services and ownership experiences – the local EV industry will be hoping that strong advocacy will extend their way, too.
As we have reported here, resistance at a dealership level is considered one of the key barriers to consumer uptake of electric vehicles – one of many, in the case of the Australian market, where only a handful of fully electric cars are available to consumers.
The broader industry has also proven resistant to the shift to EVs, with the FCAI, itself, recently issuing a warning that the introduction of light vehicle emissions standards – of which Australia currently has none – would take some of the nation’s highest selling cars out of the market.
Hart, who is 40 years old – and will be Ford Australia’s first female president – started her career in the marketing team at Ford New Zealand in 1998.
“I am excited to come back to Asia Pacific and work with such a strong and accomplished Ford Australia and New Zealand team,” she said, in comments on Monday.
“I’m looking forward to working with our dealers and team to continue the great progress that has been made in the consumer experience and helping accelerate growth across the business.”
In this role, Hart will be responsible for Ford’s National Sales Company in Australia and New Zealand, including marketing, sales and service, dealer relations, customer satisfaction and sales performance.
She will continue to lead the transformation of Ford’s business, including the work to revamp the consumer and dealer experience, the company said.
Like Australia, Ford has been relatively slow off the mark in terms of electric vehicles. So far, the Detroit car maker produced just one fully electric car, a version of the Focus (pictured above) that offers just over 100 miles of range.
In January, however, Ford announced plans to increase investments in EVs to $US11 billion by 2022, and have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its line-up by that date.
“We’re all in on this and we’re taking our mainstream vehicles, our most iconic vehicles, and we’re electrifying them,” Ford told reporters. “If we want to be successful with electrification, we have to do it with vehicles that are already popular.”