Interview with Ford CEO Mark Fields

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Mark Fields, Executive Vice President, President of the Americas, Ford Motor Company with the 2010 Ford Mustang GT Convertible at the North American International Auto Show. (01/11/09)
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MARK FIELDS
Ford, GM, Chrysler, one of these kids didn’t need government intervention. Take a guess. Actually, that is too easy as the topic was probably at the forefront of the populace for 2010. Ford had begun its own restructuring earlier, shedding brands and even leveraging the blue oval itself. In the midst of this massive undertaking was an executive, perfect to oversee the division most essential to any restructuring success, the Americas. Mark Fields during his employment at Ford since 1989 has helmed many groups and markets including Japan’s Mazda, Ford of Europe, Argentina, and the Premier Automotive Group. Since October 2005, Mark has taken the role of President of Ford itself. In his role, he is responsible for all operations in development, manufacturing, marketing, and sales of Ford and Lincoln in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and South America. Mercury is no more, with the 2010 model year being the final in its storied history. Ford launched a “Drive One” campaign under Mark and the brand’s divestment allowed for a dedication of resources to the brand that invented the assembly line manufacturing process. The success has been startling with vehicles like the Focus, Fiesta, Taurus, and Explorer garnering great reviews and most importantly sales, a testament to consumer acceptance. I caught up with Mark in Detroit, getting a briefing on the portfolio and especially the new global-focused compacts. Our dialogue follows.

So introduce yourself to our people out there at Toyz Nation, who you are and what you mean to the Ford company.

I’m Mark Fields and I’m President of the Americas and what that means is I run North and South America for Ford, you know, manufacturing, marketing, sales, purchasing, and all that stuff.

So now we’re standing here in what you guys just debuted. Tell us a little bit about this all-new Focus.

This is a brand new Focus…Well, you know, we really have worked and listened to our consumers over the last number of years and what they’ve been telling us is they really want to stay connected to their devices so a couple of years ago we introduced Sync into our vehicles. You know, it connects people to their Bluetooth devices. So what we announced was a new upgrade of Sync where you can actually download your tweets into your car but also we introduced what we call a new interface vehicle called MyFord Touch and it’s how the consumer interacts with the vehicle in terms of the vehicle information like temperature control and navigation and how they use their mobile phone and how they use their audio and their MP3 systems. Simply put, what the mouse did for the PC we want MyFord Touch to do for how you interact with a Ford product.

So now it seems like Ford has carved this niche that is in tune with the new wave and not only have you guys carved that you guys were able to avoid getting a government bailout so to speak. So speak about that and how you guys kind of foresaw things that were going on in the market to avoid the pitfalls that have become some of the other manufacturers.

Well, I think a number of years ago, three or four years ago, we laid out a plan that included restructuring, getting our costs in line, but also investing in products that people want and value. We really based that product strategy on quality, best in both quality, on safety, where we can be second to none on safety, [and] fuel efficiency. [With] every one of our products, our intent is to be the leader in the segment on fuel efficiency and something that we call smart technology which is technology that makes people’s life easier when they’re in their cars as opposed to technology for technology’s sake. We’re seeing new products come to the marketplace and consumers really like them. Our market share was up for the first time in fourteen years.

And that ‘s a very interesting point. And actually what’s interesting about what you said is that you’re focusing on technology that is focused on the consumer and I say that when people make a car investment, you’re making a five to six year commitment and you probably will spend more time behind the wheel of your automobile.

People were telling us they were really frustrated, you know. It’s dangerous to make a phone call in your car as you’re trying to dial the phone number of a friend and drive at the same time. So we looked at it and said okay how could we come up with a solution through voice activation and we make that really easy for consumers. That’s where Sync came in. Then we saw the advent of MP3 players [and] iPods. People wanted to take their music lists with them and bring it right into the car as opposed to buying new CD’s and putting them in the CD player so we made Sync compatible with MP3 players where you can call up a track voice-activated. Now what we’ve done with MyFord Touch is the five button layout of a remote control or an Apple iPod, etc. We put that on the steering wheel so the consumers as they’re activating different systems in their vehicles, they’re used to a common formula. So we’re really listening and working at a different clock speed than we ever have before as a car company, almost at the clock speed of consumer electronics. It’s just about listening and then responding to customers.

Well that’s very interesting there, too. In addition you have the EcoBoost technology and you’re actually debuting a new Mustang V6 that is 30 miles per gallon on the highway but over 300 horsepower. Talk about that.

People have their cake and eat it too because the Mustang is all about performance and we introduced the 3.7 liter which gets 400 horsepower and as you said 30 miles per gallon. So they get the fun but they get it responsibly. And we’re also announcing today the 5 liter which is a storied engine for Mustang owners and that’s gonna get 412 horsepower and 25 miles per gallon so you know we really work on engine calibration and the combustion ratios on the vehicle to really make sure we get good fuel economy but not take one iota away on the fun to drive aspect.

You actually did a great job on the Fusion Hybrid which won an award. You guys actually brought back a lot of storied manufacturers, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo and you actually developed great products and now you’ve been able to sell them and have them go about their way. How much of that technology have you guys retained internally to kind of integrate its way into some of the new, more products to come.

Well as you look at Jag and Land Rover, for example, some of their lightweight technologies around aluminum, those type of things, our people learned from that and incorporated it into a number of our vehicles. Clearly Volvo, which we do own but we’re in the process of selling, we’ve learned a lot on safety. They also learned a lot from us on active safety as well. So it’s really been a good relationship as we owned these brands and what’s important to us is that we sold them and we sold them to responsible owners. In Tata’s case, they bought Jaguar and Land Rover and I think they’ve done a wonderful job with that and we’ll see what we end up with with Volvo.

So I guess in conclusion, tell us about the future. We’re talking about in-car technology; the Taurus has been great with blind side assist; all of these new things integrated; better efficiency out of your powertrains. What is the future then? Where do you see the market let’s say in the next 24 months?

We don’t see a V-shaped recovery because you know, folks are still trying to work down their debt and those type of things but we continue to bring out products in the marketplace that really focus on quality, safety, smart technology, and fuel-efficiency and we want to be the best in each one of those areas because those are the things that are important to customers and we’ll see how the chips fall. You know, we grew our market share last year for the first time in quite a while and we’ve got a full pipeline of new products this year. We’ve been more busy this year than we were last year so we’re hoping that will show up on the showroom.

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