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US:Ford starts early talks with UAW

Ford starts early talks with UAW

Mulally: Painful concessions needed from union; 'The only thing I care about is the competitiveness of Ford.'

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally is holding weekly meetings with United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger in the run up to this year's watershed contract negotiations. He praised the labor leader for his willingness to work with Ford, but said painful concessions will be needed from the union if his company is to compete against foreign rivals.

"The automotive industry in the United States is very robust. The issue here is three automobile companies in Detroit," Mulally said during a wide-ranging discussion with journalists Wednesday night. To address that issue, Ford needs to become competitive in wages, benefits, work rules, flexible manufacturing and plant capacity. "I respect the union as an institution. (But) the only thing I care about is the competitiveness of Ford."

And Mulally stressed that a competitive Ford is good for the union, too.

"Ron Gettelfinger absolutely understands the situation we're in I don't know of anybody that cares more about Ford than Ron Gettelfinger," Mulally said. "On everything that we've asked him to do to help us restructure, he's supported us."

The auto talks will begin this summer and will wrap up in September when the current four-year contract expires.

Gettelfinger is not the only person Mulally has been meeting with lately. On Wednesday, he confirmed that he and Ford Americas President Mark Fields flew to Tokyo last month for a two-hour meeting with Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Fujio Cho.

"We talked about advanced technology, we talked about fuel efficiency, we talked about free trade, we talked about the regulatory environment, we talked about areas where we could continue to work together for the good of the industry," Mulally said, though he would not say if any agreements had been reached between the companies.

Mulally said he has also held meetings with senior executives from General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrylser AG and BMW AG, and hopes to hold talks with the leaders of other auto manufacturers soon.

"I really want to connect with each of the players in the industry, and I want to do it quickly," Mulally said. "We have so many things in common that we're dealing with."

Also on hand Wednesday night was Ford's new global product development czar, Derrick Kuzak.

Mulally, who referred to Kuzak as "our hero," tapped him to lead the consolidation of Ford's disparate product development arms in North America, Europe and Asia. Kuzak told The Detroit News that he held his first meeting with his new team Wednesday morning.

In a memo distributed to Ford employees later Wednesday and obtained by The News, Mullaly outlined his new global structure for vehicle development.

Rather than a loose collection of regional operation units, Mulally has established three new groups to oversee the process of bringing vehicles from sketch pad to sheet metal. The new divisions are:

Product planning and strategy. The group will be responsible for developing a global product plan for the Ford brand, simplify vehicle platforms and powertrains and allocate spending across the Ford product line-up. An executive director in charge of the group will be named later.

Product development finance: The team's job will be to make sure Ford is getting the most bang for its product development buck. It will be led by David Prystash, Ford's controller for global product development.

Core engineering. The division's goal will be to simplify Ford's parts and subsystems through greater sharing and reuse of common designs. Part of its mission will be to ensure vehicles have a "consistent feel and sound that is unmistakably Ford," the memo said.

During his meeting with reporters, Mulally said he is pleased with the progress Ford is making, adding that he is more optimistic about the future than he was when he was hired in September.

But he and other Ford executives said Wednesday that there is still a lot more work to do.

"Despite the numbers, (2006) was a year of incremental progress for us," Fields said. "It's like building a house. We built the foundation last year. But you don't see the house. You see a hole."

However, Fields acknowledged that Ford failed to meet its stated goal of slowing its market share decline in 2006.

Mulally also said:

Ford's sale of its Aston Martin brand will be completed "this year."

The company is still evaluating its brand portfolio and would not rule out a sale of Jaguar, though he said the division is showing tremendous improvement.

He wants to create a single, global Ford brand that uses common platforms with minor variations to meet consumer needs worldwide.

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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