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2012 Ford Focus: This is the European-bred model and it rides on a global platform intended to account for a total of two million in sales. The new Focus arrives early next year. Ford of Canada CEO Dave Mondragon expects the new Fiesta and Focus to double Ford’s passenger car sales in Canada. (Antoine Antoniol)
2012 Ford Focus: This is the European-bred model and it rides on a global platform intended to account for a total of two million in sales. The new Focus arrives early next year. Ford of Canada CEO Dave Mondragon expects the new Fiesta and Focus to double Ford’s passenger car sales in Canada. (Antoine Antoniol)

Auto Industry

Ford's new focus: the global village Add to ...

Ford Motor itself, of course, is profitable, posting earnings of $2.7-billion (U.S.) last year. In April, Ford posted $2.1-billion in quarterly net income and, at the company's annual meeting in May, Ford chief executive Alan Mulally - under whose leadership Ford ended three years of losses in 2009 even as rivals slid into bankruptcy - said the auto maker will be solidly profitable in 2010.

"We're clearly on the path to profitable growth," Mulally told shareholders at their annual meeting in Wilmington, Del.

Mondragon, Mulally and all the other Ford executives believe they have chopped down the company into a lean, streamlined operation. Ford has downsized more than 40 per cent of its work force since Mulally came on board, along with negotiating new labour contracts that, while not as generous for the employer as those at General Motors and Chrysler, keep costs under control far better than in the recent past.

Meanwhile, Ford has spent years putting in place a product development process that creates vehicles for the world, using global platforms tailored to local markets. What's that mean?

It means that the Ford Fiesta subcompact he wants to sell me is essentially the same car sold in Europe. Shared parts, shared design, shared engineering. But this one is built in low-cost Mexico, which is part of NAFTA, so it can be sold in Canada and the United States duty-free.

"You cannot be profitable if you run your business like a regional company," says Mondragon, growing serious. "So everything at Ford comes back to our globalized footprint and our leveraging of this great global footprint of world-class vehicles.

"That's a key advantage Ford has today versus our competitors. We made those hard decisions - the decisions the industry is having to make now - early, and we invested very aggressively during the downturn. We were one of the few companies that did that."

One result of that spending is a coming barrage of new models, starting this month with the Fiesta, followed by an all-new, car-based Explorer crossover utility and continuing with the 2012 Focus compact slated for an early 2011 on-sale date.

Another is quality. Independent studies now clearly show that Ford is not just the quality leader among Detroit's three auto makers, but in the world. For instance, in the most recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study released last week, Ford was the top-ranked non-luxury brand - ahead of Toyota, Honda and all the other mainstream brands.

Not only is the Ford brand ranked fifth overall for 2010 (up from eighth place in 2009), 12 Ford models ranked among the top three in their respective segments and four core models earned extremely high marks for quality. And beyond the Power survey, 90 per cent of Ford's models are rated average or better than average for quality by the influential researchers at Consumer Reports.

"I think of the gains we've made over the last few years, and when I think of our position in the market - to me it's about earned leadership. It's about value, affordability, quality, safety and the technology investment that we've made in the product that's earning us leadership," says Mondragon, noting that Automotive Lease Guide says Ford has the highest resale value improvement in the auto industry.

The turnaround at Ford to date is impressive, but a long list of challenges remains. First among them is to get a broader swath of the marketplace to believe the changes in Ford's products - especially world-class quality - are real and permanent. That takes time.

Second, Ford is shifting its product focus from pickup trucks and SUVs to passenger cars. For some Ford dealers, Mondragon concedes, 80 to 90 per cent of their sales volume has been in light trucks. But passenger cars and car-based crossovers represent the bulk of new models from Ford in the next few years. Ford has not been competitive as a full-line car maker for a long time, but that needs to change.

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