Business composite-materials Economics Ford gas-mileage hybrids Innovation Mulally

How new Ford CEO Mulally will save the company

Ford is in trouble. Some new models are doing well, but all their gas guzzlers are in decline big time. So CEO Bill Ford has hired his own replacement - Alan Mulally, formerly of Boeing.

What can Mullaly do to turn the company around, and why was he chosen? Bruce Nussbaum at Business Week says that Ford needs innovation in their business model, to be more like Apple and Amazon. I think he's right, but I will let those with more knowledge talk about how to improve Ford's business model (if you have ideas, please comment below).

What I will talk about is product innovation. I think Ford Motor Company has picked exactly the right person to be CEO, and here's why: the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The Dreamliner is not just a new jet. It makes extensive use of advance carbon-fiber composite materials to make it lighter, stronger, and more efficient.

Ford needs something really innovative, not just more cup holders or higher, skinner windows. They need to build a car using similar composite materials and blow past everyone in terms of safety and fuel efficiency.

Just taking a nice, stylish mid-size car like the Ford Fusion and replacing heavy metal parts with composites could cut weight drastically. Forget about hybrids—even though I think they're wicked cool—advanced materials are the ticket.

This is not a new idea – a few engineers are trying to do something similar with the Aptera at Accelerated Composites. Mulally has the expertise and the contacts to get the materials, get the designs together, and build up to production capacity. This could even be a boon to Ford's union workers. Even though large parts of the Dreamliner are built in Japan and Europe, a lot of the composite work is being done in the U.S., and there's a lot of work to be done on scaling production techniques before China can compete on labor costs alone.

It would be a huge, non-trivial problem, with a lot of pitfalls. I certainly don't know enough to even begin listing the challenges to such a plan. But it seems obvious to me why Ford would pick Mulally after looking at the Dreamliner. I just hope it's obvious to Ford as well.