The Truth About Cars » alan mulally The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:25:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » alan mulally Hammer Time: Are Shareholders Worth It? Wed, 28 May 2014 14:20:07 +0000 balancing act

Capitalism has no loyalties.

Everybody is replaceable.

Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm.

Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” of economic systems. You name the angle or need in capitalism, and chances are that there is a market substitute that can immediately fill the gap. Even government regulations can be routinely challenged by trade organizations, international courts, and the all too common political handshake.

All this reality happens… on paper.

The truth is that capitalism is tempered by the culture where it’s practiced.

In the world we live in today, corporations and industry interests always pursue laws and relationships to protect their gotten gains. The ultimate goal of some companies isn’t progress. But to keep certain competitors and market substitutes far away from the hands of the free market.

Consumer first? Hell no! Earnings first? Hell yes! This brutal reality of corporate self-interest brings on a few tough questions when it comes to the American auto industry in particular.

Everyone has their own hierarchy of worthiness when it comes to an automaker’s success. Bonuses, dividends, stock options and pensions are all realigned to account for the rewards of good work.  So with that in mind, let me have you think about a question that has bugged me now for several years.

Are individual shareholders worth it?

As I look through the recent history of our industry, I am having trouble figuring out a single scenario where individual public shareholders made the difference. Ross Perot couldn’t kick Roger Smith’a ass into gear. Lee Iacocca and Kirk Kerkorian were the crown jesters of a pointless takeover exercise. As for Ford, wasn’t the fact that the Ford family held sway the major reason why an industry outsider like Alan Mulally was successful at restructuring the company? He didn’t need to worry about holding off on a strategy, or hiring some lackey to his management team,  just because some schmuck with a big block of stock thought he knew more.

Smaller shareholders are nothing more than gamblers. If something bad happens, they are the last to know and for good reason. They don’t know anything. Even if they did, their shares don’t enable them to help create that change. I can’t think of one solitary situation in the last 50 years where a small shareholder has been able to make a difference in any automobile company.

Who has offered the greatest stability and success in the long run? In our industry it may very well solely rest in the wiser and more patient hands of the family controlled business.

The most successful Japanese auto company is owned by the Toyoda family. The most successful European company, Volkswagen, is ruled by Porsche Automobil Holding. A German holding company owned by the Porsche families.

As for American manufacturers, only Ford, a company controlled by the Ford family for well over a century, was able to survive the 2008 meltdown without a direct bailout. The shareholders did nothing but lose all their money and offer many of us a golden opportunity to short their stocks. John Q Public and Cerberus were inevitably replaced by the unions, Fiat, and Uncle Sam.

Could individuals shareholders ever make a difference in this business? If not, do they simply make it easier for the family with limited resources to control the business?

Instead of offering a reflexive yes/no based on ideological allegiance, I want you to also think about the financial issues. We are in a heavily cyclical industry. White knights, along with new leaders, have helped save nearly every automaker from bankruptcy or a hostile takeover at one time or another.

But can this defense be better executed with a family that has their own name and reputation to defend? Instead of a bunch of shareholders who are in it simply for the stock price?

My answer is yes. I think small shareholders serve as nothing more than a money pool for those who are doing the real work. In a well-run organization they offer liquidity. In good times, they get dividends and stock appreciation. In bad times, they usually don’t have any means to change the running of a car business for the better.  This business has far too many influencers on too many levels for public shareholders to effect change.

Am I wrong?

Author’s Note: Even when Steve is wrong you can reach him at

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Mark Fields To Replace Alan Mulally, As Ford CEO: We Wish Him Mazel Tov Tue, 22 Apr 2014 04:01:06 +0000 Mark Fields, Ford Group VP Derrek Kuzak, Bill Ford Jr., Alan Mulally

Mark Fields, Ford Group VP Derrek Kuzak, Bill Ford Jr., Alan Mulally

Two of the most reliable reporters on the automotive beat, Karl Henkel and David Shepardson of the Detroit News, have reported that their sources confirm that Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally will step down later this year and that Mark Fields, Ford’s chief operating officer, will be named to the CEO position. Earlier on Monday, Bloomberg News reported that Ford “may announce the moves as soon as May 1.” Ford’s annual corporate meeting is scheduled for May 8 in Delaware, with the FoMoCo board of directors meeting the prior day. Mulally, 68, has been with Ford since 2006 and he’s generally credited with successfully guiding the automaker through the troubled waters that brought crosstown rivals General Motors and Chrysler to bankruptcy and a government bailout.

The move is seen by most as a formality and that Fields, 53, has been assured of replacing Mulally since he was promoted from President of the Americas to COO in late 2012. Mulally has previously said publicly that he plans to remain as Ford’s CEO through at least 2014. Other than a stint at IBM, Fields has been at Ford for most of his adult life, having joined the company 25 years ago.

A Ford Motor Company spokesperson declined to confirm or deny the reports.

So that’s the boilerplate news. In the background of the story, though…Ever since Fields started ascending the corporate ladder and was seen as a possible CEO at Ford, is the fact that Mark Fields is Jewish and the founder of the company, Henry Ford, was one of the 20th century’s most notorious anti-semites. If I was a betting man, I’d bet that 100% of the articles published in major news sources about the announcement, when it is made, will mention Fields’ religion and Henry Ford’s anti-semitism. Henkel and Shepardson’s DetNews piece certainly did.

That prejudice is a historical fact. In 1920, the Dearborn Independent, a newspaper controlled by Henry Ford, started publishing a series titled The International Jew, claiming that there was a worldwide conspiracy by Jews to control the world. Seven years later, under pressure from his son Edsel and other business associates, Henry would make a public apology, but the damage to Ford’s image was done. Growing up in and around Detroit, I can’t recall any of my friends’ parents driving Ford products before the 1970s. I’ve known Jews, the children of Holocaust survivors, who bought German cars before they would consider a Ford product.


To be fair, it should be said that Henry Ford was not an exterminationist Jew-hater, like Adolf Hitler was, though the two admired each other to some extent. Ford had good working relationships with Jews like architect Albert Kahn and he was friendly with his neighbor in Detroit’s Boston-Edison district, Rabbi Leo Franklin of Detroit’s biggest Reform Jewish temple, Beth El. In fact, Ford was perplexed when, following the publication of The International Jew, Franklin returned the Model T that Henry gifted to him, something Ford ecumenically did every year for all of the most prominent clergymen in Detroit. Henry, it seems, divided world Jewry into two groups, the “good Jews”, those whom he knew personally, and the conniving boogeymen of his imagination. Remember, Henry Ford was an uneducated farm boy who made good and he retained most of his beliefs, biases and prejudices all of his life.

Henry didn't like jazz. "Jewish Jazz - Moron Music" is what his newspaper called it. With one of his great grandchildren married to a Jew and another married to a black, Henry must be spinning faster than a Model T crankshaft.

Henry didn’t like jazz. “Jewish Jazz – Moron Music” is what his newspaper called it. With one of his great grandchildren married to a Jew and another married to an African-American, Henry must be spinning faster than a Model T crankshaft.

So it’s true that Henry was a crackpot and a Jew hater. However, Henry Ford has been dead since 1947 and his family has gone out of its way to right his wrongs. I’ve written before here at TTAC about how Henry Ford II cultivated close personal relationships with Jews and between Ford Motor Co. and the Jewish community, how the Deuce was personally generous to Jewish philanthropies (and FoMoCo did likewise at his lead), and how in 1973, at the height of the Yom Kippur War, Henry II personally arranged for Ford of Europe to ship trucks and trailers to Israel because they were needed to move tanks to the battle fronts.

Fields’ comments about not experiencing any discrimination at the Ford company ring true to what I have heard from personal friends who have worked there in the past few decades. Fields is also not the only high level Jewish executive at Ford Motor Company. Neil M. Schloss has been Vice President and Treasurer of Ford Motor Co. since 2007.

I see the appointment of a Jew to the CEO job at Ford as more of a non-issue than anything else. Yes, it’s worth noting because of the history involved, but 2014 is not 1920. It’s a different world, Ford Motor Company is a different company that it was under Henry and I’m sure that Bill Ford and his cousins (who collectively control Ford Motor Company) don’t care what Fields’ religion is as long as he does a good job running the company.In light of the fact that one of the Ford cousins is married to a Jew and has donated a Torah scroll to the temple they attend, my guess is that many in the family will be happy about Fields taking the job. A dark corner in their family history has been turned.

Let me be the first to wish a hearty Mazal Tov to Mark Fields, to his kvelling parents, to the Ford family and to Ford Motor Company.

* The term “anti-Semite” was coined by Wilhelm Marr, who was looking for a more polite term than “Jew-hater” to describe his opposition to Jewish political emancipation in 19th century Germany, so he pulled a word from linguistics, which references “Semitic” languages that include Hebrew, Ugaritic etc. Since Marr’s euphemism was intended to make him and his ilk look better and because some modern day Jew-haters have appropriated the term to fraudulently claim that Arabs are also victims of “anti-Semitism”, I prefer to call a spade a shovel.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Mulally: New Chinese Escort Could Come to America Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:30:13 +0000 escort

While Ford’s new compact Escort sedan was developed by Ford’s Aisa-Pacific R&D team specifically for China, Ford CEO Alan Mulally indicates that the company has more global plans for the car, including the possibility of selling it in the United States. Mulally told Automotive News that the Escort will likely go on sale in other markets besides China. He said that while the company already has the Focus in the stateside C segment, the Escort could allow the company to attract consumers at a new price point in that segment.

Ford revealed the revived Escort on Sunday at the Beijing auto show. The nameplate has been dormant at the automaker since 2000. While it’s based on a Focus platform, it has more leg room in back, something Chinese consumers appreciate. Mulally told AN that it’s only a matter of time before American consumers will also get a chance to stretch their legs in the back of an Escort.

“We have a really solid small and medium-sized product line in the United States right now…“But I think over time this will be another enhanced version of the C-size. It’s just a matter of when. We’re going to be able to provide a C-sized vehicle with different price points.”

Mulally said that how the new Escort will spread to other countries demonstrates how the company’s One Ford strategy can take a vehicle developed by one of their regional R&D teams and customize it for specific markets while still saving money by making a global product.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

escort2 escor4t escort escort3 escor5t ]]> 48
2015 Mustang to Likely Premiere in Times Square Next Thursday on Good Morning America. Part of Simultaneous Reveal of All New Global ‘Stang In Six Cities On Four Continents Thu, 28 Nov 2013 07:38:04 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

The all new, next generation Ford Mustang will have its world premiere next Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Reflecting the fact that for the first time Ford will be selling the Mustang globally, including in right hand drive format, the car will be simultaneously debuted in six cities around the world, on four different continents. For the North American market, Ford will get top billing that day on the ABC television network’s popular “Good Morning America” show, broadcasting from New York City, at the same time that the new Mustang will be revealed at events in: Los Angeles, California; Sydney, Australia; Shanghai, China; Barcelona, Spain, and near Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

The events will be broadcast online at Ford’s site, which lists a starting time of 7 a.m. Eastern time, which is when “Good Morning America” begins. That would be 11 p.m. in Sydney, Australia; 8 p.m. in Shanghai; 1 p.m. in Barcelona, Spain; 7 a.m. in Dearborn, Mich., and 4 a.m. in Los Angeles. Since nobody in LA is going to get up at 4 in the morning to go to a car reveal, there is also going to be a local event there later in the morning at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard at 10 a.m. local time. TTAC will have at least one representative at the Dearborn event.

1964 World's Fair Ford Mustang Introduction

Lee Iacocca introducing the original Mustang at the New York World’s Fair, April, 1964.

Ford marketing head Jim Farley has confirmed that he’s going to be outside the United States for the event, though he’s been coy about where. His location is rumored to be in Australia

Other than giving the locations, times and the fact that the reveals will happen “nearly simultaneously” Ford isn’t saying much though they did say that company execs, dealers and “local influencers” will take part in each of the local events. The event in Dearborn will also have a contingent of Ford employees. The Product Development Center is just across Oakwood Blvd from the Ford conference center that’s hosting the reveal.

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Ford CEO Mulally To Head Boeing Or Microsoft Soon? Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:06:35 +0000 ford-ceo-alan-mulally-china-lincolnjpg-894a92e3f2c9121aThe rumor mill has been grinding away as of late regarding the possible return of Ford CEO Alan Mulally to helm either one of two of Seattle’s many economic engines: Microsoft and Boeing. In the face of these rumors, Mulally has opted not to dispel the rampant speculation.

Reuters was  among those in attendance at an automotive conference in Wuhan, China, where Mulally’s response to being asked whether he was directly or indirectly approached by either company to take the wheel was, “I love serving Ford.” He added that there were no changes to the plan laid out for Ford to find a successor to the third longest serving CEO when he steps down at the end of 2014, though Reuters did report that the auto maker may be open to an earlier departure should Mulally accept an offer elsewhere.

Since taking over Ford in 2006, Mulally helped steady the then-troubled company through his One Ford plan, which led to the sale of acquired brands — including Aston Martin and Volvo — to bring the focus back upon the Ford and Lincoln product lines. In turn, Mulally’s Ford was the only auto maker to avoid the pitfalls and bailouts experienced by Chrysler and General Motors during the Great Recession’s early days in late 2008.

With Microsoft’s market price still stagnant a decade on, and Boeing’s own woes with the 787 Dreamliner, either company could possibly benefit should the right offer approach his desk, especially if hand-delivered by his senior contacts in both companies to his home in Seattle.

Of course, when asked if he were open to a new executive post upon the end of his term at Ford, Mulally laughed and only had three words for the reporter: “I don’t know.”

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Piech, Mulally Not Going Anywhere Fri, 06 Sep 2013 14:41:52 +0000 Ferdinant_Piech_by_Stuart_Mentiply

The C-Suites of two major auto makers are unlikely to change in the near future, despite rumors suggesting that both Ferdinand Piech and Alan Mulally are set to depart both VW and Ford respectively.

Mulally, who is reportedly being courted by both the Obama administration and Microsoft, told Bloomberg that “I plan to continue to serve as Ford’s president and CEO until at least the end of 2014.” Sources have suggested that Ford’s board was open to him stepping down early so that he could explore other options.

Over at VW, rumors of Ferdinand Piech’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated. German outlet Der Spiegel claimed that Piech was about to step down due to poor health, with CEO Martin Winterkorn assuming the top job. True to character, Piech denied such reports, claiming “Those who are written off live longer.”


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Mulally On Closing Australian Ford Plants: “Doing The Right Thing” Thu, 22 Aug 2013 14:01:18 +0000 000-fpv-gt-broadmeadows-628

At a dealer event in Sydney, Australia, Ford CEO Alan Mulally defended the company’s decision to close its Broadmeadows and Geelong assembly plants in this country, saying it was Ford’s only option if they wanted to remain in the Australian market, what Mulally called the most competitive in the world. The Ford executive also explained that the automaker is taking three years to manage to shutdown in order have an orderly transition and to treat “stakeholders” equitably.

“Of course, it is a serious consideration where we decide to make things, but the world is becoming more and more integrated and you have to be competitive. “You have to be competitive or you don’t get a chance to stay in business and serve the customer. We’re doing the right thing by the consumer in the longer term.”

Mulally said that the decision to close the plants had nothing to do with the quality of Ford’s Australian built cars including the big rear wheel drive Falcon.

Mulally told dealers,

“I loved the Falcon the first time I was in it. But (the large car) market is really, really small. The customers have moved on to smaller, more efficient vehicles, and this is exactly what we are going to provide.”

Asked why Ford didn’t close the plants immediately, Mulally said,

“We really want to have an orderly transition, out of respect for all the stakeholders. That’s why we are refreshing the Falcon, because there are a lot of people that love the Falcon. And we will refresh the Territory, too. Absolutely we are doing the right thing for all the stakeholders involved, including employees, the supply base, the industry, we’re doing absolutely the right thing.”

Mulally also said that there was nothing the Australian national government, which has provided incentives to Ford in the past, could have done, that the only way Ford could remain competitive in that market was to import cars there, like every other automaker doing business down under. Ford is planning on building 15-20 new plants in Asia to supply Australia and other markets in the region.

“We have worked very hard to make a viable business here. We have had a tremendous public/private partnership and we are just not competitive making vehicles here in Australia. So we are doing the right thing. Any company needs to be making a reasonable return so they can continue to invest in new products. You know, this is the most open market in the world, the most competitive market in the world. There are more brands here than anywhere else in the world. There are more marques than in the rest of the world. This is a really competitive market and if you are going to get a chance to participate here, you have to be really competitive.”

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Mulally Praises Chinese Political System Fri, 09 Aug 2013 12:38:39 +0000 ford-ceo-alan-mulally-china-lincolnjpg-894a92e3f2c9121a

China has become an area of tremendous potential for companies as the nominally communist country has embraced capitalism. The hybrid result, according to Ford CEO Alan Mulally, is in some ways an improvement on what’s been a pretty sluggish and inefficient democratic process elsewhere in the world.

In a Q&A with Keith Naughton and Craig Trudell for Bloomberg Businessweek’s interview issue, Mulally is effusive in his praise for the party and the government in China, where Ford’s sales are up massively.

Asked if they’re easier to work with than democracies, Mulally replied

“They are a pleasure to work with. You’re welcomed, you’re part of the fabric. ‘What can we do to help? What can we do to work together?’ There’s nothing like it in the world.”

“It’s fantastic. The working relationship between the party and the government is tight. They both have the same objective, to grow the economy.”

The obvious contrast is with Ford’s home in the United States, where some feel that politics and the government frequently serve as an impediment, rather than an economic booster, especially from the viewpoint of commerce.

The tenor of his answers might be colored by his need to maintain good relations with China’s ruling elite.

Mulally’s relationship with the country goes back a long way. In the interview, he describes taking a lead role in China in the ’70s and ’80s during his time at Boeing. The country became a key part of his strategy at Ford from the beginning, and the business has been increasingly successful.

Other companies haven’t had as positive an experience. KFC saw sales plummet massively after a government investigation into its supply chain, while British drug-maker GlaxoSmithKline is embroiled in a bribery controversy and investigation

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Mark Fields Becomes Ford’s COO, Setting The Stage For Succession Wed, 12 Sep 2012 17:41:34 +0000

Ford is set to promote Mark Fields, head of Ford’s operations in the Americas, to the newly created post of COO, paving the way for him to succeed Alan Mulally as CEO.

The Bloomberg report cites an unnamed source, who claims that the transition may come at Ford’s board meeting, which begins on Thursday. Fields will give up his current role, where he has overseen a turnaround from record losses to record profits. Possible replacements for Fields at the Americas post include  Joe Hinrichs, head of Ford’s Asian operations, and marketing chief Jim Farley.

Hinrichs is apparently held in high regard by Mulally, but at age 45 (six years younger than Fields), he is thought to have time to become CEO in the future.

The Bloomberg piece details how Fields won points from Mulally by doing the unthinkable; reporting a defect.

Shortly after arriving from Boeing in September 2006, Mulally instituted a Thursday morning meeting where his top executives are required to report on their initiatives using a green, yellow and red color code to indicate progress, caution and a problem.

Fields was the first to put up a red light because a balky tailgate latch had halted production of the Edge sport-utility vehicle. Mulally, frustrated no one was reporting problems even though Ford was losing $17 billion in its automotive operations that year, began applauding when Fields revealed his red light. “Great visibility, Mark,” Mulally recalled saying in a 2010 interview. “Is there anything we can do to help you?”

Fields later said he had trepidations about revealing the problem because in Ford’s previous culture “finger pointing would have ruled the day.”

“When I showed that first red, there was a lot of tension in the room,” Fields said in a 2010 interview. “Then Alan clapped.”

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Ford Rules Out Low-Cost Brand, Keeps Door Open For Cheap Cars Sun, 09 Sep 2012 17:20:34 +0000  

Ford won’t be following in the footsteps of Renault and other auto makers that have introduced “low cost” brands like Dacia. But the company hasn’t ruled out a model line of cheaper vehicles either.

Speaking at Ford’s Amsterdam dealer meeting, CEO Alan Mulally told Automotive News that

“We are looking around the world at opportunities to offer a car priced below the Fiesta…We do not have a firm plan at the moment [for a global sub-B model], but clearly being competitive in every market segment is important,”

Model specifics or production sites were not discussed, but conventional wisdom dictates that cars like the A-segment Ford Ka aren’t suitable for a global low cost vehicle, since (relatively) larger cars are favored in other markets around the world. The Fiesta platform is a likely candidate for the future vehicle.

This wouldn’t be the first time Ford produced a vehicle for developing markets either; the Ford Ikon was previously sold in Mexico, China, South Africa and India, with underpinings derived from previous Fiestas.

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Mulally Tells Canadian Newspaper Ford B-Max Coming To North America After All Fri, 16 Mar 2012 15:31:17 +0000

Contrary to initial reports, Ford CEO Alan Mulally told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that the Ford B-Max MPV will be coming to North America after all.

Jeremy Cato, reporting from the floor of the Geneva Auto Show said that

“The nifty new Ford B-Max, which CEO Alan Mulally said will eventually go on sale in North America, will be sold here in Europe with a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo gas engine. 

…he added that it most likely will have a spot in Ford’s North American lineup. Exactly when he would not say, but he was pretty emphatic about the B-Max having a future in Canada and the United States.

As vague as that may be, Mulally is about as reliable a source as one can get within Ford. The B-Max doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of vehicle that Americans would adopt in droves – Canada, on the other hand, may be a much better market for a small, ultra-efficient MPV-type vehicle. But the specter of the $19,995 Dodge Caravan (an extremely popular choice in the Great White North) may prove to be a stumbling block to positioning the avant-garde but bite-sized B-Max at a reasonable price. The Grand Caravan is Canada’s fourth best selling vehicle so far this year, while the Chevrolet Orlando, which slots between the B-Max and the Caravan, doesn’t even crack the Top 30.

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Quote Of The Day: Professional Jealousy Edition Mon, 26 Jul 2010 16:27:00 +0000

When Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne took the stage over the weekend to honor Lee Iacocca with an induction into the Walter P. Chrysler Legacy circle, he admitted to feeling unworthy of honoring Chrysler’s most famous executive in recent memory, and called Ford’s Alan Mulally and the UAW’s Bob King to help share the honor. And being the business-obsessed type he is, Marchionne wasn’t about to let Mulally get on stage without at least a mention of Ford’s just-announced $2.6b profit. And though the recognition and ensuing awkward “moment” helped add to the usual Detroit gala hometown booster vibe, it also highlighted the fact that Chrysler still has yet to announce its Q2 results.

Marchionne has said that Chrysler will report a Q2 operating profit (explained at least in part by the premise that “they are likely making money from fleet sales now, while it was impossible to do before bankruptcy”), although there’s been no indication that a net profit could be in the cards. And based on the body language differences between the two CEOs, it’s clear which is more comfortable with his lot. More evidence of this can be seen in the following video of te gala’s highlights…

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Ford Shareholders Meeting: Profit This Year, But No Dividend Thu, 13 May 2010 21:39:59 +0000

After four straight profitable quarters, Alan Mulally’s forecast today of a “solidly profitable” 2010 shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. But, as Executive Chairman Bill Ford put it to Ford shareholders at the company’s annual meeting [via AP],

It is the very early days in our recovery. We still have a lot of debt

And he’s not kidding. As of the end of Q1 2010, Ford was carrying $34b in debt. And though Ford faces a higher cost of borrowing because of its staggering debts, Bill Ford was clear that he wouldn’t trade places with Ford’s Detroit competitors, which cleaned out their balance books, at the expense of government bailouts and accompanying PR problems. After all, while GM and Chrysler were rebuilding, Ford managed to outperform both of them last year by gaining sales and market share. And Ford’s leadership sees that momentum carrying forward into next year.

Alan Mullaly told stockholders [via BusinessWeek] that

We expect to see continued improvement in 2011. We’re clearly on a path now of profitable growth. The improving global economy is a slow gradual recovery especially in the United States, but with very solid fundamentals. Also, we’re bringing on more and more products.

But the news out of FOrd’s annual shareholder meeting in Delaware isn’t all good. After a meteoric rise in its stock price since hitting lows in the $1 range last year, Ford’s challenge is in convincing stockholders that more growth is still possible.Says Efraim Levy of Standard & Poor’s:

Ford has taken advantage of the weakness of their competitors, and now the challenge will be to continue to outperform them. They’re not out of the woods yet.

And that’s because so much money has been made on Ford stock since last year’s low, that pressure to sell is inescapable. One hedge fund manager who recently sold off Ford holdings for an average return of 275 percent explains:

The company is doing fantastic but I don’t know if there’s a lot of upside. When Ford’s outlook was very cloudy and not as positive, there were regular buy signals.

Further hurting chances of further growth in Ford stock is the news today that shareholders had voted down a plan that would redistribute the Ford family’s closely-guarded preferred-share voting majority to the rest of Ford’s shareholders. This is the sixth time such a measure has been voted down, although with 30 percent voting in favor, this time was the closest it’s ever been to passage.

Moreover, Ford will not institute a dividend for stockholders, despite the projections of profit. That decision underlines the importance of reducing Ford’s debt load. Bill Ford explains that

the most important thing we can do as a company is get the balance sheet in order.

But there’s more to running an automaker than merely attracting equity investment, and Ford’s operational strength means CEO Alan Mulally is the man of the hour at the Ford shareholder’s meeting. Bill Ford waxed effusive about the former Boeing CEO, who has rapidly become one of the most respected executives in the industry, saying

Alan has been completely superb for this company. We’d like him to stay as long as he wants.

And with profits looking likely this year and the next, Ford’s shareholders can rest assured that their investment is about as strong as any other in the auto sector… especially if they bought in at the $1-$1.50/share low last year.

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New Website Seeks To Utterly Destroy American Car Industry Wed, 07 Apr 2010 22:27:51 +0000

With about $34.4b in debt and a selling rate that’s being propped up by incentives and fleet sales, Ford ain’t out of the woods yet by a long shot. But compared to the ongoing debacles in the RenCen and Auburn Hills, things are looking downright sunny under the sign of the Blue Oval. Most of the credit for that tends to go to CEO Alan Mulally, who left Boeing to assume control at Ford in 2006. There are people who want him gone.

A website called has popped up [via egmcartech] seeking to bring Alan Mulally back to his old company, which suddenly finds itself in need of its own turnaround after several delays of its 787 Dreamliner project. Though its understandable that Boeing insiders would want their old CEO back, Mulally is “REALLY” needed at Ford as well. Surely even they appreciate the importance of having at least one American automaker that generates something other than negative headlines. Sorry guys, but Alan Mulally is the first good thing to happen to Detroit since, well… there you have it. Hands off.

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Mercury Retrograde: Alan Mulally Stands By His Brand Wed, 27 Jan 2010 17:16:05 +0000

For all the praise and positive comparisons he earns, Ford’s Alan Mulally still refuses to man up and acknowledge that at least one of his firm’s brands is as meaningful to the American consumer as Kaiser or Cord. And it’s not like Mulally can just ignore the brand’s slide into ignominy: after all, people notice when you never introduce new products for a brand that was wholly comprised of cheap rebadges in the first place. Well, Inside Line noticed, and they cornered Mulally at the Washington Auto Show to get his take on the brand with no purpose.

“The plan right now is (to develop) Ford, Lincoln and Mercury,” Mulally answered.

He said Ford is working to more effectively position Mercury with smaller vehicles that occupy the void between the mainstream Ford brand and Lincoln, which directly targets the luxury-premium market. “That’s our plan — to continuously improve the Mercury and Lincoln brands,” Mulally said.

But after a little more discussion, Mulally felt compelled to reiterate: “That’s the plan right now.”

Could Mulally be more tentative? Mercury will continue to exist so that Lincoln can focus on rebadging larger vehicles? And this after Lincoln’s latest concept was the compact Concept C? It’s impossible to deny that Alan Mulally has done a lot of good at Ford, but his inability to take Ford’s luxury brands seriously is a major black mark on his tenure that analysts can only ignore for so long.

The “Mercury treatment” (i.e. throw the monthly output of a small chrome factory at an up-optioned Ford) will play especially poorly with Ford’s new global Focus and Fiestas, and will serve only to futher cement Mercury’s status as an unfunny joke played at the expense of the American consumer. Not to mention Mullaly’s well-intentioned desire to add more premium appeal to Ford-brand offerings. The sooner Mulally realizes that Mercury’s main competition is the JC Whitney catalog, the better.

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Debt Rating Upgrade Fuels Ford Resurgence Tue, 12 Jan 2010 17:39:30 +0000 On the upswing (

Despite Ford’s surging stock price, new models and rising customer confidence there’s always been that one bone of contention which had divided peoples’ opinion: debt. $35 billion of it. Though they’ve tried to restructure it, selling new shares and raising cash throughout 2009, it’s still a problem. But apparently it’s becoming less of a problem. ABC news report that Fitch Ratings upgraded their assessment of the risk of Ford defaulting on its debt obligations, basing their optimistic view on a better economic environment, the company’s stronger margins, increased market share and cash position. Oh yes, and a small matter of $5.9b in federal DOE retooling loans [full Fitch release here]. Ford’s Credit unit also received a hearty slap on the back from Fitch because of its improving access to capital, as its rating was raised from “CCC” to “B-”. But let’s not get carried away. While this is a positive step in Alan Mulally’s vision of a sustainable Ford, the rating still qualifies Ford debt as non-investment grade.

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Going Global, Ford Faces Uncertainty Down Under Mon, 11 Jan 2010 23:25:08 +0000 Lost in the outback?

Despite his genial, affable manner, Alan Mulally is a businessman and, by all accounts, a businessman not to be crossed with. One story goes, when he first started with Ford, he let them know, in the clearest possible terms, “Everybody says you can’t make money off small cars,” he said. “Well, you’d better damn well figure out how to make money, because that’s where the world is going.” Long protected from the brutal rationalisation of the global market, Australia might be about to get a taste of the man’s darker side as he attempts to drag Ford’s Australian ops into the 21st Century.

The Australian
reports that the future of Ford’s Melbourne factory in Australia is undecided. The Ford Falcon’s current model will finish in five years’ time and there’s no cash on the horizon for retooling (unsurprisingly, considering its weak sales start). “We’re looking at a variety of things at the moment. What we build in Australia will evolve over the next 18 months to two years.” said Ford Australia Chief Executive, Marin Burela.

Alan “I’m Steve Jobs, mark 2.0″ Mulally still hasn’t passed judgement on whether Ford will continue manufacture in the Land Down Under. The only thing he has confirmed was that developing a new Falcon, just for the Australian market, was no longer an option. “People who make one vehicle for one country — a different vehicle — those days are gone because you can’t compete with the global companies,” Mr Mulally said. “Around the world now, the things that are driving every purchase decision are quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and the best value.” Seems like Mr Mulally is taking this “One Ford” policy very seriously.

There were plans to build the next Focus in Australia to replace the Falcon, but those plans have since been scrapped and Alan Mulally said there was no chance that decision would be reversed. Could there be a more sure sign that Ford do not wish to continue manufacture in Australia? Still, Mr Mulally didn’t want to alienate the Australian market so he trotted out the usual management speak in a situation like this, “Australia is a very important market for us and we’ve worked hard to be competitive,” he said. “No matter what, we’re going to serve the Australian market.” Which is great, but doesn’t help clarify the future of the Melbourne plant. In defence of Mr Mulally, Ford Australia built 55,000 cars last year, which is a small amount. Couple that with the fact that the United States and Australia have a free trade agreement between them, then suddenly, it’s easy to see where Alan Mulally is coming from.

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Ed Whitacre Is Talking To Someone Fri, 11 Dec 2009 16:24:01 +0000 You're no Alan Mulally, but you know how to deal with the press...
GM’s New Chairman and CEO, Ed Whitacre may not be talking to the press about his plans for the state-owned automaker, but he’s talking to someone. Reuters reports that Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, has already had a chat with GM’s chairman and CEO, Ed Whitacre. Mulally didn’t disclose what they talked about, but did mention his reasons as to why they had the chat. “You want to be supportive because we have a lot of industry issues that we work together,” Mulally said, “He’s reaching out just the way that I did when I came in.”

Mulally also mentioned how he reached out to Rick Wagoner (remember him?) when Mulally came aboard the good ship Ford. The report also goes on to say that in October, Steve Rattner said that Rick Wagoner had warned the administration against bringing in an outsider when they sought his resignation. Rattner bases this assertion on daily conversations between Wagoner and Mulally. Naturally, Mulally gets a bit hazy here. “I don’t remember it that way,” Mulally said. “I will say that when I arrived I reached out to all of the industry insiders, including Rick, and Rick was very very supportive.” Is this indicative of Alan Mulally’s “Work together” philosophy? Or was he trying to get a handle on the competition? I’m guessing the latter.

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Editorial: Why GM Doesn’t Need A “Car Guy” CEO Wed, 02 Dec 2009 21:47:49 +0000 Business is business (

Car guys know exactly what’s wrong with GM: car guys like them aren’t running the show. Otherwise, every Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, and Cadillac would look “great” (no need to be more specific) and dust the competition. Hence Bill Ford’s decision to hire Alan Mulally to take over as CEO came as a real disappointment. Obviously, he would have done better hiring anyone who truly knows and loves cars better than a Lexus-driving Boeing executive.
Sorry, CarNut4CEO. It just wasn’t so in Ford’s case. And it’s just not so in GM’s case, either.

Every auto enthusiast has done it. We’ve all figured we’d do a much better job running GM than the suits in the Ren Cen. In design competitions, we’d pick the sexy themes, not the ugly ones. Focus groups wouldn’t have a say. We’d command the engineers to create direct-injected twin-charged dual-variable-cammed engines that rev smooth as silk and sing songs of pure adrenaline. There’d be no more slushboxes. No more front-wheel-drive, either. Every suspension would be firmly damped. Every bucket seat would be solidly bolstered. Cheap plastic would be banned and every bit of trim perfectly aligned.

The problem is, most car buyers don’t know much about VVT. What they do know is they aren’t going to pay much for things that have no obvious impact on getting from Point A to Point B. Their eyes, fingertips and rear ends don’t see and feel the same things as those of car guys.

What do most car buyers want? Guess at your own peril. You can scrape the surface by asking them. You can observe how they use their cars at rest stops and parking lots. You can try to walk in their shoes, perhaps even going so far as to don costumes that simulate the experience of being encumbered by arthritis, pregnancy, or nails and heels. Do this long enough and intensively enough, and you might figure them out. Then you’ve got to translate what you’ve learned into the thousands of details that comprise a car — from the curve of the fender to every last button and switch. Do this right and all of these bits cohere into a “gotta have” for that car buyer (who hopefully isn’t unique).

You don’t have nearly enough time to do all of this yourself. The thousands of decisions that constitute an automobile’s design require contributions from hundreds of people. Ideally, the people who know the customer and the people who style and engineer all of the bits work together seamlessly, accepting and melding one another’s expertise to create an appealing, coherent whole. And let’s not forget the dreaded “bean counters”: this whole has to be affordable. Achieving this synthesis might be the most difficult task in the world.

Nor can you simply hire the best and the brightest and simply toss them into a room together. A program team needs a leader to pull everyone together around a customer-based product vision. Even this mid-level executive can’t know everything or get fully involved in every decision. He’s got to develop a team capable of creating this synthesis, and he’s got to be able to let them do it.

GM’s CEO is at least three levels removed from the corporation’s product program managers, who are themselves a few levels above the grunts in the trenches. If, after a twenty-slide PowerPoint presentation, this CEO can make better decisions about product details than the team that has lived and breathed the product and market, then something is wrong. It doesn’t matter how car-smart this CEO is. If the program team is decent, then no exec’s that brilliant. If the team isn’t decent, then game over.

Nevertheless, senior car company execs frequently step in and make such decisions. The media legitimizes this meddling, lauding gutsy top execs who make snap product decisions. There’s no glory in letting the grunts do their jobs. Finally, corporate politics can push each executive to prove that he knows more than the other guy does while second-guessing every decision the other guy makes.
In this environment, it takes a tough exec to let the experts be the experts, to put the processes and organization in place that will foster great teams and let these teams do their job. This strategy isn’t romantic. It doesn’t make for dramatic headlines. It’s not something that those of us outside a car company can see and comprehend. It’s just what Ford got with Mulally and what GM needs from its new CEO.

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Ask the Best and Brightest: Whatever Happened to Compact Pickups Tue, 10 Nov 2009 01:03:20 +0000 One of the originals (

Ford’s announcement today that the new global Ranger won’t be coming to the US sure seems like a head-scratcher. Though Automotive News [sub] quotes Ford’s Alan Mulally as saying the Ford Ka won’t be sold stateside because “our view is that Fiesta is about the smallest vehicle that we think will be a real success in the United States,” there’s no similar reason given for the absence of a modern compact pickup from Ford’s lineup. Or anyone else’s lineup, for that matter. The Canyon/Colorado are going out of production since the Shreveport, LA, plant is part of Old GM liquidation Corp. The Dodge, er, make that Ram Dakota will die next year according to the new plans at Chrysler. The Tacoma is no longer properly compact, and Volkswagen’s Brazilian “Robust” won’t be coming here either. Hell, even the latter-day El Camino was stillborn. But if my flu-addled memory serves me correctly, didn’t compact pickups help pull the US market out of one of its last great downturns? Why is it that nobody is giving this segment the time of day?

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