Ford Honcho Tells Houstonians The Domestic-Car Market Ain't Dead Yet

Mark Fields, the flashy young head of Ford's Americas division, ran through the many woes of the auto industry before a group of mostly white-haired local car dealers who gathered for a luncheon yesterday at the Galleria Westin Hotel. There were the massive stock dips and job losses, the government takeover of his two biggest domestic rivals. National car sales, he said, have sunk to 1982 levels -- and there was an economic downturn even then.
"Just makes you want to jump out of bed every morning," Fields joked, adding that "volatility is the new norm."
In a blast to the happier recent past, Ford has re-released the Taurus, which was discontinued in 2007. (One audience member requested that the Thunderbird be next.)
In a nod to the future -- one of 35.5 miles per gallon fuel standards for all vehicles, including SUVs, as decreed by the Obama administration last week -- the new Taurus will have a fuel-efficient "EcoBoost" engine that purports to deliver V-8 performance at V-6 mileage. Fields also boasted about the company's 41 mpg Fusion Hybrid.
In response to a question from one worried Houstonian about the future of SUVs -- "Do you want one?" Fields asked -- Fields said Ford will remain committed to manly, Texas-sized vehicles. (The new F-150 SFE "superior fuel economy" edition gets 21 mpg--leaving a lot of ground to cover by 2016.) But he acknowledged that these are becoming harder to sell. Three to four years ago, he said, pick-ups and SUVs accounted for 70 percent of the company's sales. Now it's close to 50-50.

Fields also detailed some of the ways Ford has managed to stay afloat without mountains of tax dollars -- which basically boiled down to a bit of planning for the future. The company set aside a rainy day fund. It also underwent massive job cuts. Since the end of 2005, Ford has shed $7 billion in costs, Fields said, while reducing its hourly workforce from 100,000 to 42,000 and losing 40 percent of its salaried workers.
Toward the end of the presentation, one burly dealer stood up with his family to commend Ford for keeping its hands out of Uncle Sam's pockets.
"I'd just like to reiterate: we do want your money," Fields said. "But it's to come in and buy the product."

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Mike Giglio
Contact: Mike Giglio