Jim Farley and Elon Musk continue to create buzz.
Within hours Monday, news splashed on social media that the two different auto executives had made prominent magazine covers: Ford CEO Farley won 2022 MotorTrend Person of the Year and Tesla CEO Musk won 2021 Time magazine Person of the Year.
Farley was the first to issue a shoutout to his rival. And Musk replied.
These two auto executives have a history of exchanging tweets of praise as well as throwing shade at each other. Musk gave a shoutout to Ford for not declaring bankruptcy as its Detroit Three rivals did. Yet he also clapped back at Farley for what Musk perceived as a poke on Tesla’s safety record.
Farley and Musk are known to engage fans and foes on Twitter.
On Monday, Farley retweeted to his 78,000 Twitter followers the Time magazine cover, complimenting his rival: “Elon says: ‘Our intent with Tesla was always that we would serve as an example to the car industry…’ Mission accomplished. Congrats, @ElonMusk.”
More than 14,200 people “liked” the tweet praising Musk, and 1,000 people retweeted the message. Farley earned props for the nod, characterized by some as classy and just nice in a social media landscape that often isn’t either.
Perhaps most notable, though, was an audience of one.
A short while later, Musk replied simply, “Thanks.”
Musk has 66 million followers and a reply from the innovation wizard is considered, well, huge by anyone who tracks social media influence. The billionaire is viewed as a tech god in circles that watch in awe as the value of his car company moves past $1 trillion, he pushes harder to dominate the all-electric car space and he now sends people to space in rocket ships.
Growing the online conversation, Farley proceeded to answer questions from various Twitter accounts including those who identified as Tesla fans.
An account @TeslaSpaceShip tweeted, “Jim do you think Ford can miss the giant iceberg thats ahead and fully transition to electric?”
And the CEO replied, “Yes.”
And then an account from someone who identifies as a Tesla investor issued what was clearly intended to be a hard hit on Farley.
“Maybe make better products that can compete with Tesla on specs so you can stop with the cheap shots at Tesla about how they are made in tents,” tweeted @Tesla4k.
Farley responded with one letter: “K”
A series of retweets with laughter emojis followed.
Mike Levine, Ford North America product communications director, tweeted to his 19,600 followers a “Sesame Street” meme showing Kermit the Frog making a Letter K for Grover.
Olivia Leigh tweeted from @LivShaka a meme of basketball superstar Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors wearing a grin as he rips off his jacket to reveal a letter K.
Farley, who has grown his Twitter presence significantly during his first year as CEO, has taken a completely different approach than his predecessor Jim Hackett.
Not only has Farley seen a surge in stock value since he took the helm, but Wall Street has been unable to contain its enthusiasm for the vintage race car driver.
Farley has worked to reveal more of himself personally and professionally online — with family photos as well as product developments and teasers. He has publicly acknowledged the challenge that Tesla presents to legacy automakers and praised Elon Musk consistently for his vision, inspiring others to move more aggressively into battery-operated vehicles.
Meanwhile, Ford is facing such an overwhelming demand for the all-electric F-150 Lightning that it already has announced orders have spilled into 2023. And the company stock continues to grow, now hovering comfortably above $20. It closed at $20.43 Monday, more than twice the value of the same date one year ago.
These are just a few elements that factored into MotorTrend recognition for Farley.
While the highly respected auto publication spotlighted Farley’s successes, the magazine also bluntly spelled out the failures of his predecessor and repair that needed to be done.
‘Lost its way’
“When Farley took over, Ford was perceived as having lost its way and fallen behind the competition, with weak leadership, a frustrating lack of transparency, and scant details behind vague promises that it had a plan and the right vehicles to remain competitive,” wrote Alisa Priddle in the MotorTrend.com Dec. 13 post.
The magazine summarized what Wall Street has been saying pretty much since Farley took over the CEO job on Oct. 1, 2020:
“Farley brings critical clarity to the job. He is clear and direct, refreshing after years of muddled messages that frustrated Wall Street, and the company’s stock price has grown significantly under his tenure. The CEO has gained maturity in his leadership style, which has been bombastic at times. He has also shown the ability to revise plans as needed to meet market demands and swim in the fast current of change.”
“Many executives have tried to improve Ford over the years, few with the luxury of sitting back and watching the hits and money roll in. Farley’s moves early in his tenure, built on top of his contributions in other roles over the years, have exceeded expectations in a short time. Ford is in the midst of a stunning recovery and transformation, an incredible shift for a legacy carmaker that has all but stopped making actual cars, as opposed to trucks and SUVs.”
Twitter responses to the award included:
“Car guy gets great results running an automotive company. Win win,” from @pjmjr60.
“Congratulations Jim and team Ford. I am 62 and bought my first Ford this year because of what you have done. Mach E Premium AWD,” from @Barno1216
“Nothing wrong with having a ‘gear head’ running your company and knowing the car business,” from @fixercole.