Editorial: Between the Lines: Detroit News: Ford Gets Its Sexy Back

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

I’ve been harping on about the media’s “Ford didn’t take bailout bucks” meme for some time. Commentators have slated me for slating the Blue Oval Boyz for claiming they avoided the taxpayer trough. In fact, Ford raided the public purse to the tune of $5.9 billion dollars. Yes, it’s a no-to-low-interest Department of Energy “retooling loan.” I repeat: the $5.9 billion loan from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program allows Mulally’s minions to spend $5.9 billion dollars on something else. It’s a bailout. Question: if you’re an industry writer, how do you push Ford’s mega-suckle to one side to keep the “pure as driven snow” show alive? You draw a distinction between “emergency tax dollars” and ATVM loans, while, at the same time, not mentioning the loans. Sarah Webster’s “ Ford, Toyota in a close race to No. 1” does that and more, taking Motown’s hometown cheerleading to the next level.

As Webster embarks on a frenetic Ford canonization campaign, she takes the time to dance on Toyota’s grave. Although, you know, they’re not “dead” in the GM or Chrysler sense of the word. Or, in fact, any other sense.

For years, we’ve all watched and wondered when Toyota would surpass GM as the world’s largest automaker. That moment came and went earlier this year.

In the meantime, the world got stuck in economic quicksand, forcing GM, Chrysler and dozens of suppliers into bankruptcy.

The auto industry now emerging from that mess is, in many ways, an unfamiliar one — especially considering how Ford’s star is rising while Toyota’s is falling.

Ah yes, GM and Chrysler didn’t go bankrupt by their own hand. They were unwitting victims (and how) of the global economic meltdown. How long has it been since we’ve heard that bogus excuse for the domestic automakers’ epic failure? Not long enough.

The “Toyota’s on the rocks” story never really caught fire in the mainstream media. Especially as Toyota’s made some bold moves and very public mea culpas to sort its shit out. Still, the “See? See? They’re in trouble too!” story line helps keep Detroit’s chin up. So the kid stays in the picture.

Make no mistake, there’s trouble in Toyota City. The Japanese automaker has lost more than $4.8 billion over the past year. Toyota’s critical U.S. sales are down 34% — worse than the industry’s 32% decline. As such, Toyota has lost a half point of market share this year, selling 16.3% of the new cars and trucks in America.

Whoa! Half a point! Anyone want to tell Ms. Webster how much market share Chrysler, Ford and GM have shed in the last ten years? Don’t bother. She knows the stat and chooses to ignore it. As well as Toyota’s recent ascension to the top of the Cash for Clunkers new car league table.

By contrast, Ford already has endured years of cost-cutting and soul-searching, and it’s starting to stand tall again. All without emergency tax dollars.

Ford’s U.S. sales are down by 28.5% this year, but that better-than-industry performance helped it pick up nearly a point of U.S. market share this year, for 15.5% of all sales. The truck leader is turning out passenger cars that are tops not just in quality but in styling and innovation, too.

Whenever a Motown cheerleader runs out of chants, chances are they’ll start yelling about how great Detroit’s cars are, or will be, despite sales figures. Automotive News sales stats, Consumer Reports black dots, J.D. Power and TrueDelta rankings be damned. It gets woolier.

Ford’s performance led it to post a profit of $2.3 billion in the second quarter, albeit mostly because of onetime accounting gains. But Ford is now in the black, earning $834 million through the first half.

And unlike Toyota, which has lost top executives in recent years, the psychic momentum at Ford seems to be on the rise. While Ford isn’t ready to celebrate, there’s optimism in Dearborn, and more importantly, traffic in Ford’s showrooms.

Stripped of obfuscation, that’s a $424 million Q2 loss. And what the hell’s “psychic momentum”—if not another attempt to shore up a thesis without a strong foundation? Once upon a time, Detroit’s media accomplished this task by comparing the domestics to each other, rather than the barbarians at the gate [note to Webster: they’re heeeeeere.] Clearly, Webster’s Old School.

Globally, Ford (5.5 million) has a longer way to go to catch up with Toyota (8.97 million), where Volkswagen (6.2 million) is also a major player.

But more than any other American brand, Ford has the promise to be a world leader. No single GM or Chrysler brand has the global cachet that Ford brings to the showroom.

Yeah, I’ll have that Taurus ’cause Ford rocks in China! Anyway, heading for the conclusion, Webster still has to deal with the 800-pound Toyota in the room. Just ’cause.

The Toyota brand has long promised quality, but that promise means less when the number of problems per vehicle has leveled out among rivals.

Does Webster mean initial quality? Or long term reliability? Either way, Toyota’s rep for quality may mean less, but it doesn’t mean nothing. In fact, it means a great deal. Still.

Since the industry meltdown took its toll, and before, Toyota’s made it clear they’re not about to surrender/ignore/neglect their dedication to producing quality products. Besides, how can Webster single-out Ford’s global prospects relative to its cross-town rivals yet happily dismisses the importance of relative vehicle quality across the entire automotive spectrum? Practice.

God help Ford if they’re as flippant as Webster about absolute and relative vehicle quality. Meanwhile, the coupe de grace. Ish.

Ford today seems to stand for what Toyota and other automakers are hoping for: A comeback.

Seems? That’s like dropping a pom-pom. Only worse. Anyway, if Ford is the poster boy for the auto industry’s eventual rebound, what does that make Lincoln? Just askin’.

[Thanks to Cammy Corrigan for the link.]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Marquis Dee Marquis Dee on Aug 20, 2009

    Great debate and many good points. Beign a native of Ford Country, I am always glad to hear ANY good news out of Dearborn, especially when upper management changes. Frankly, I agree with those who said that Ford's story is a good one WITHOUT the Detroit Snooze hyperbole! A bit ironic - the fact that a misleading article full of "truth stretching" distracts from, if not renders unreasonably questionable, the real progress Ford has made. They still have a long ways to go; my M.I.L. really wanted to buy a Ford, and after weeks of visiting dealer after dealer, and reading every source of info I could find for her on the 'net, she wound up with a Hyundai Sonata. And I gotta say, it's a nice car; She says, "I feel like I'm driving a Toyota"...and this from a 78-year-old lady who has NEVER owned anything but US cars! What is the world coming to? Were I in need of a new car, I'd consider a Ford; 5 years ago, I wanted to get one, I really did, but in the end did not - the Focus was not there yet. Hence the Toyotas (after a great Honda experience); we have a 2000 Camry made in Kentucky (more US-made parts than my sister's Taurus) and an '05 RAV 4 (Japan-made but soon to be made in Ontario), perform routine maintenance religiously, have had NOTHING but good experiences with them, and expect them to last a long, long time...maybe until Ford really DOES catch up and has no need for hyperbole from anyone. My next car a Ford? Maybe...some friends are giving them a try, but it's too early to tell...but for me it's a few years down the road! "He who truly knows has no cause to shout" - Leonardo da Vinci

  • Panzerfaust Panzerfaust on Aug 22, 2009

    She's cute. Hope she ages as well as the Lincoln she's leaning on.

  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
  • Alan My comment just went into the cloud.I do believe its up to the workers and I also see some simplistic comments against unionisation. Most of these are driven by fear and insecurity, an atypical conservative trait.The US for a so called modern and wealthy country has poor industrial relation practices with little protection for the worker, so maybe unionisation will advance the US to a genuine modern nation that looks after its workers well being, standard of living, health and education.Determining pay is measured using skill level, training level and risk associated with the job. So, you can have a low skilled job with high risk and receive a good pay, or have a job with lots of training and the pay is so-so.Another issue is viability of a business. If you have a hot dog stall and want $5 a dog and people only want to pay $4 you will go broke. This is why imported vehicles are important so people can buy more affordable appliances to drive to and from work.Setting up a union is easier than setting up work conditions and pay.
  • El scotto I can get the speedometer from dad's 72 Ford truck back. I can't get dad back.
  • El scotto BAH! No dividers in the trunk for bags of onions or hooks for hanging sardines! Hard Pass.