Bill Ford takes no pains to hide the fact that he has a favorite child.
“Perhaps a parent shouldn’t have a favorite child, but I do,” said the executive chairman of the Ford Motor Co. “I love all of our cars and trucks, but my favorite is the Mustang.”
In an interview at the New York International Auto Show, Ford said he owns various models of the car – celebrating its 50th anniversary this year -- including a number of serial No. 1, all the way back to its introduction in 1964.
In fact, his very first car was an “awesome looking” Mustang in electric green. But it had an unfortunate ending when he drove it up to go skiing in northern Michigan. Because it was a show car, it was never meant for those extreme conditions. The next morning “every bit of paint was standing straight up.” Like any parent seeing a hurt child, he said “I came very close to crying.”
Though he primarily drives Ford cars and trucks, he’ll bring home many competitors’ vehicles as well because “it’s important to know what they’re up to.” That includes cars from manufacturers such as Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Tesla and whatever else is “new and relevant.”
Despite being a car enthusiast and the great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, it surprisingly wasn’t a given that Ford would join the family business. After graduating from Princeton University, he began as a product planning analyst in 1979. The company was then in a downturn.
“I wasn’t sure at all that I was going to come into the auto industry,” Ford explained. “I thought, ‘Gee, everything I have in life is due to Ford, maybe I should see if I could go and help,’ never thinking that I’d stay my whole life. I often wonder now if Ford had been in good times, whether I would have made that kind of decision, and I don’t know.”
Throughout his years at the company, the legacy of its founder remains strong. Though Ford said he hesitates to compare himself to Henry Ford, he said that his great-grandfather was always looking for the next big thing and perhaps “I share that with him,” including the company’s initiatives on the environment and sustainability, autonomous driving and solving global gridlock.
His own father’s legacy may be even stronger. William Clay Ford, Sr. was the last surviving grandson of Henry Ford, a longtime chairman of the company’s Design Committee, and the owner of the Detroit Lions. He passed away last month.
“My dad was a very humble man,” Ford recalled. “He had a lot of grace about him and he treated everyone around him really well … Once somebody said to me, ‘The only person who doesn’t act like Mr. Ford around here is Mr. Ford.’”
ABC News' Luis A. Yordán, Brian Fudge and Arthur Niemynski contributed to this episode.