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UK:White van man to Ford's rescue

White van man to Ford's rescue
By Christopher Hope

White van man drove to the rescue of Ford's main European subsidiary last year, snapping up new models of the Transit and helping to shunt Ford Europe into the black for the first time in seven years.

However there was gloom at Premier Automotive Group (PAG), Ford's luxury brands arm, after flat sales of new Jaguars and an unfavourable exchange rate contrived to plunge the business, which also makes Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin cars, into a loss.

Overall, Ford's group pre-tax profits jumped 70pc to $5.8billion (£3.2billion) on sales down 2pc to $44.7billion. Although nearly all of the profits came from its finance arm, Don Leclair, Ford's chief financial officer, said: "We feel we had a good year and hit most of our financial targets. We are disappointed in PAG but we will get that fixed."

Ford Europe made its first money since 1997, turning a $1.1billion loss in 2003 into a profit of $114m. Revenues edged up from $22.2billion to $26.5billion. Mr Leclair said: "It has been a while but we are in the black and very happy with it."

Ford Europe's showing was boosted by increases in sales of the new £10,225 Transit Connect (up 23pc to 62,400 vans) and a jump in sales of the new five seater £13,500 Ford Focus C-MAX to 160,000 in its first full year. Cost reductions also helped.

There was grim news at PAG, which plunged deep into the red with a pre-tax loss of $740m against a profit of $171m in 2003. Revenues were up $2.8billion to $27.6billion. Ford blamed the "unfavourable currency exchange and lower volumes at Jaguar".

The problems at Jaguar, where 2004 car sales were flat at 120,000, were signalled in September last year when Ford decided to end production at Jaguar's historic Browns Lane factory near Coventry. Mr Leclair said: "We are monitoring the situation closely. If we need to we will make further changes but don't see anything in the medium term other than what we have discussed before."

Meanwhile, European losses doubled for arch rival General Motors, which owns Vauxhall. Losses in 2004 increased to $742m from $286m in 2003. Rick Wagoner, GM's chief executive, said cost cutting plans agreed with unions last month were "an important milestone" for GM Europe. He added that GM Europe's market share was up to 9.5pc, its highest for five years.

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.....
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