[...] The staging ground for Ford's innovation revolution is the top-secret Piquette Project. Unknown by all but the very top-level Ford executives, the program is aimed at nothing short of reinventing Detroit. It's named after the third-floor Piquette plant skunk works where Henry Ford and a group of engineers first developed the idea of the assembly line and experimented with lighter materials to create a car that could be mass-produced. The specific goals and the deadlines of the Piquette project are secret. But company officials say it harks back to Henry Ford's innovative experiments with soy-based polymers and the idea of agriculture and industry being closely linked. "The mission was, 'Could Ford design the Model T of the next century?'" says William McDonough, an expert on green architecture who is running the sustainability part of the project, involving recyclable and biodegradable materials.
The CEO thinks the attitude within the project will be contagious for the whole company. "Piquette helps institutionalize innovation," Ford says. For the most part it exists virtually, through e-mailed sketches, proposals and blue-sky ideas. A team of designers, engineers and manufacturing gurus is brainstorming everything from how to make a business plan to how production should be organized to how to employ biodegradable materials. The ultimate goal: a recycled, reusable car.
Business consultants would call that a "stretch" goal, a worthy target yet one that seems beyond a firm's capabilities. And maybe too dreamy for a company that needs to do the basics better? "I don't buy the criticism out there," says Anne Stevens, chief operating officer of Ford's troubled domestic business. "For all the reasons they say Bill's not the man for the job, I say he's the right one. At so many companies decisions are driven by quarterly results. Here we're making decisions that are about the next 100 years. How many ceos in America are like that?"
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