Automaker's Bottom Line:
At Ford, future is looking brighter
Turnaround is seen after gloom of 2002
January 6, 2003
BY JAMIE BUTTERS
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
With a new F-Series truck on the way, profits on tap from its European luxury brands and a centennial lovefest getting started, Ford Motor Co. is looking a lot more confident than it did a year ago.
The 2002 North American International Auto Show was fraught with worry and speculation over the number of jobs and plants Ford would have shed to start thinking about making money again.
But that was then. The company is not profitable yet, but a lot of things are starting to turn around.
"As I'm sure you know by now, 2003 is a very special year for the Ford Motor Co.," Chairman and Chief Executive Officer William Clay Ford Jr. said early Sunday afternoon.
Last year, Ford and other executives said the company's turnaround would not just be about cost-cutting, but a bevy of new products that the Dearborn automaker would bring to market over the next few years.
To show they are serious about that claim, Ford unveiled more than half a dozen models -- many of them very briefly -- on Sunday, the first press day of the 2003 Detroit auto show.
The automaker revealed models that included concept cars from Lincoln and Mercury, two Ford brand family vehicles and the FX4 version of the F150 pickup.
After F150 pickup sales fell by nearly 100,000 last year, it will be difficult to recoup those lost sales this year, even with a new model of the nation's top-selling vehicle coming out this year, said Jim O'Connor, group vice president for North American marketing, sales and service.
"The key is going to be availability in the third quarter," he said.
The new model is expected to begin production this summer at plants in Virginia and Missouri. After several rocky vehicle launches, a smooth introduction is not a sure thing.
But even if they are not readily available this summer, O'Connor said he expects the new model, in 2004, to reach 2001's sales level of more than 900,000.
The F-Series is a profit powerhouse, with its high volumes, fat margins and tremendous owner loyalty.
The same cannot be said for the Premier Automotive Group, Ford's four European brands, which are expected to produce more than $2 billion in pretax profits by 2005 or 2006.
Ford doesn't report profits by brand, but Chief Operating Officer Nick Scheele said last fall that Jaguar would lose about $500 million in 2002 and that Land Rover would not be profitable. He did not give any guidance for Volvo or Aston Martin.
But on Sunday, David Thursfield, the executive vice president in charge of PAG, said losses there would be a thing of the past.
"We will be profitable out of PAG," Thursfield said.
Making money might be the best way to pay tribute to company founder Henry Ford, renowned as the creator of the assembly line.
But one has to wonder what he might say if he saw the energy going into the automaker's centennial celebration.
The man who founded the Dearborn automaker almost a hundred years ago was no fan of looking to the past.
"History is more or less bunk," he told the Chicago Tribune in 1916. "It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today."
Now his great-grandson is guiding the company through a rough patch. After losing $5.5 billion in 2001 and almost $1 billion through nine months in 2002, Bill Ford is trying to draw inspiration from the successes of previous decades.
"We don't want to live in the past, but we can learn from it," he said.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....