Ford Finds Its Groove
After struggling, the Blue Oval brand is now in a good place.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: September 26th, 2012
ot too long ago, I offered my unsolicited advice to the fine folks at Mitsubishi, penning a piece on how the company should go about digging itself out from the dire straits it finds itself in. Now I am about to step back from the fix-it role (I'm sure Mitsu loved the advice from an auto journo who has never stepped into a corporate exec's chair) and give credit where credit is due to another automaker, one that has been on a roll for quite some time.
I speak, of course, of Ford. Not too long ago, Ford seemed directionless, relying mostly on truck and SUV sales to offset weak offerings in the small and mid-size car markets. Now, though, the Blue Oval has strong product offerings in almost every segment, and Ford is the only one of the Detroit Three that avoided bankruptcy.
Much of this is part of the One Ford plan, which aims to simplify the offerings by sharing global platforms while also increasing fuel economy.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the turnaround began, but 2006 or so is a good time to start. Alan Mulally came on board as president and CEO and Ford secured a line of credit using most of its corporate assets. Not long after, the company had come to an agreement with the United Auto Workers that helped cut its benefit obligations.
These steps would later help the company avoid taking government loans (as well as bankruptcy), which gave it a bit of a boost from misguided American consumers who decided to shun Chrysler and "Government Motors" after Chrysler and GM went through federally managed bankruptcies.
Product helped, too. The retro-themed 2005 redesign of the Mustang, the introduction of the Fusion, 2011's redone Explorer--these vehicles and others helped bring Ford forward out of its funk. When the current Focus compact dropped, followed by the 2013 Escape compact SUV and 2013 Fusion, the product makeover was more or less complete.
Much of this is part of the One Ford plan, which aims to simplify the offerings by sharing global platforms while also increasing fuel economy. Ford is attempting to achieve that latter goal by employing its EcoBoost technology (small engines that match the output of larger ones through technology such as turbocharging and direct-injection) along with offering hybrid and electric powertrains.
Ford also shed some of its holdings, by selling off its stakes in Volvo, Land Rover, and Jaguar, decoupling from its partnership with Mazda, and killing off Mercury.
Not all of Ford's steps have been positive. Sync and MyFordTouch, Ford's ambitious attempts at cutting-edge infotainment systems, have been derided by the press and consumers for being too buggy and not intuitive enough, and competitors have been launching their own systems, some of which (Cadillac's CUE, Chevy's MyLink) are potentially better. Lincoln, Ford's luxury brand, continues to struggle, appearing to lack for direction. Meanwhile, the F-Series trucks continue to sell well (actually, that's an understatement) and have been well-received by the press, but Ford has to contend with an updated Ram 1500 and the next generation of Chevrolet and GMC trucks, which will be here soon.
Still, Ford has a lot to crow about. The new Fusion has a chance to finally defeat the Honda Accord and Camry (although that will be an uphill fight) and the Escape impressed when I drove it earlier this year. A new Mustang will be coming soon, and if Ford gets the update to the iconic pony car right, it could steal back some of the thunder from Chevy's Camaro. Not only that, but updates are coming to MyFordTouch, and those updates could finally make the system more livable.
Ford still has to show that its newest products will be reliable over the long term, and that takes time to measure. I am also still not sure why Ford needs three mid-size SUVs (the Flex must sell well enough to justify its existence), and the Expedition either needs a redesign or to be put out to pasture.
That said, it's still amazing to see the transformation that Ford has undergone over the last half-decade or so. General Motors has also remade its product lineup and had success (see: Camaro and 2008-2012 Malibu, plus Lambda crossovers, Cruze, and Buick LaCrosse, among others) but it didn't avoid the corporate pitfalls of the recession as well as Ford did. Nor did Chrysler, although that brand's survival story is just as remarkable, even if the jury is still out on product (the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Dart, along with the Dodge Charger/Chrysler 300, show the company's promise).
I can talk about GM and Chrysler's turnarounds some other day, though. They deserve it, but Ford is getting the focus now not just because the Fusion's launch means a lot for the company, but because its ability to succeed in the boardroom as well as it has in the showroom put it slightly ahead of GM and Chrysler, at least for now.
This being the auto business, "for now" are the operative words. Ford could fall quickly for any number of reasons (just ask Toyota). But for the moment, the folks in Dearborn have reason to feel good.