Jim HackettBill Pugliano/Getty Images

  • Though Ford's stock price declined during his tenure as CEO, Jim Hackett has made smart moves to prepare Ford for the future, two auto-industry experts told Business Insider.
  • Hackett, who'll retire in October and be replaced by COO Jim Farley, strengthened Ford's investment in the autonomous-vehicle startup Argo AI through a deal with Volkswagen.
  • And he set a plan to install tech in Ford cars that will allow them to communicate with stop signs, traffic lights, and other vehicles.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Since Jim Hackett became Ford's CEO in 2017, investors have sent a clear message about their lack of confidence in the automaker's future, sending its shares down from $11 at the beginning of his tenure to $7 when markets opened on Wednesday. Ford's stock price trails those of General Motors ($26, as of Wednesday morning), Fiat Chrysler ($11), Tesla ($1,505), and even Nikola ($33), an electric-truck startup that doesn't plan to begin production of its first vehicle until next year.

But Wall Street's skepticism doesn't mean Hackett, who announced on Tuesday that he'll retire in October and be replaced by COO Jim Farley, has neglected Ford's future. Under his leadership, Ford has taken promising steps to prepare for a world in which cars will be increasingly autonomous, electric, and connected, two auto-industry experts told Business Insider.

"At least in those areas, Ford, I think, has acquitted itself reasonably well," said Michael Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner.

Hackett negotiated a big deal with Volkswagen

Though Ford appears to lag behind GM in electric vehicles, automated-driving technology, and vehicle connectivity, it has made promising moves in those areas. Hackett, Ramsey said, was wise to commit Ford to installing in all future vehicles, starting in 2022, tech that will allow them to communicate with each other and nearby traffic infrastructure. That year, Ford also plans to begin operating autonomous ride-hailing and delivery services powered by the startup Argo AI's automated-driving system. Ford invested $1 billion in the company in 2017 under Hackett's predecessor, Mark Fields, but it was Hackett who bolstered that investment by negotiating a wide-ranging partnership with Volkswagen that resulted in Argo receiving $2.6 billion from the German automaker.

The Volkswagen deal also gives Ford access to its partner's electric vehicle platform, sparing Ford the cost of having to develop one from scratch. Ford has not received much acclaim for its EV strategy, which has been less aggressive than GM's, said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Cox Automotive. In addition to developing its own EV platform, GM is building a factory that will house a battery joint venture with LG Chem, a move Ford has not yet matched. But GM's decisiveness won't necessarily be more lucrative than Ford's relative caution, Krebs said, even if it looks good now. There's still plenty of uncertainty around how much consumers will embrace EVs, which made up less than 3% of the global auto market in 2019.

"I think they're being smartly cautious," Krebs said.

Hackett has struggled to communicate his vision

The reason investors have not responded to Hackett's moves may lie in his failure to tie them together into a clear and compelling vision, Ramsey said. Hackett's discursive communication style, which has at times confused his own employees, contrasts sharply against that of Alan Mulally, the exec lauded for pulling Ford through the Great Recession in part by clearly outlining his priorities, Ramsey said.

Hackett, who led Ford's mobility division before becoming CEO, may ultimately be remembered as a transitional figure who began a reinvention his successors will complete. On a conference call on Tuesday following the CEO change announcement, executive chairman Bill Ford described Hackett as a kind of table-setter for Farley, who will be tasked with building on his predecessor's efforts.

"I asked Jim to help modernize Ford and to begin a transformation that would radically change our company," Ford said. "We have lots of work ahead of us to really complete our mission, but thanks to Jim, we are a very different company today than we were three years ago."

NOW WATCH: What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence

See Also:

SEE ALSO: Tesla competitor Nikola sinks 17% after debut earnings report misses forecasts and analyst call turns contentious