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Old 07-28-2006, 06:07   #1 (permalink)
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US:Product Predicament

Product Predicament
Ford company leaders rethinking North American plan as demand for V8-powered trucks sinks

By RICK KRANZ AND AMY WILSON | AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

AutoWeek

Ford Motor Co.'s slumping sales and growing red ink are forcing company leaders to rethink the cadence of its North American product plan. At a time when its traditional cash cows -- V-8-powered trucks -- are sinking fast, Ford needs revenue.

But Ford's product plan leaves little leeway to bring forward fuel-efficient vehicles in the next couple of years.

Last week, CEO Bill Ford said Ford's Americas president, Mark Fields, and his team "have intensified their efforts, with an emphasis on reducing costs and accelerating product development." Ford did not provide specifics in his conference call with analysts and journalists after the company's disappointing second-quarter financial report.

As gasoline tops $3 per gallon across much of the country, a quick review of Ford's imminent products in North America shows a continued reliance on mid-sized and larger cars and trucks. Many vehicles planned for the 2007 to 2010 model years are aimed at sinking segments, such as SUVs and pickups.

Far off on the horizon are three B-segment vehicles that will likely get 40 miles or better per gallon. Two of them are penciled in for the 2009 calendar year. Ford executives are also discussing a small minivan for the 2010 calendar year. All three models are expected to be assembled in North America on a front-drive Mazda vehicle platform. These B-segment vehicles would be smaller than a Ford Focus.

But sources say Ford's board has not approved the program.

North American design chief Peter Horbury recently left the door open to borrowing a B-segment car from another part of the world.

In an interview last week, Ford CFO Don Leclair acknowledged the limits on Ford's ability to pull forward product programs in the next 18 months.

Debuting in the next month or so are such critical vehicles as the 2007 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers, as well as the restyled and re-engineered 2007 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. Debuting early next year are the redesigned 2008 Ford Super Duty pickup and the re-engineered and reskinned 2008 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs.

Beyond that 18-month period, industry sources say, significant vehicle programs that could be pulled forward are the MKS, a new front-wheel-drive sedan for Lincoln; Ford's minivan alternative based on the Fairlane concept car; and the re-engineered, restyled F-150 pickup. All are planned for the 2009 model year.

Fields said Ford would not rule out importing products. But he said the focus of efforts with other regions is on sharing systems and components, not products.
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