auto motive

No Random Acts of Vision: Ford CEO Still Has Plenty Up His Sleeve

Posted by Dale Buss on September 18, 2012 12:53 PM

Just in case things get dicey once Mark Fields, Ford's presumptive next CEO, takes the reigns, Ford's board reportedly is considering keeping current CEO Alan Mulally around past his retirement as the non-executive chairman.

As skilled as is Fields, the 51-year-old head of Ford's Americas operations, you can't blame Ford's directors for not wanting to let Mulally go completely once he ends his tenure as CEO, with a rumored target for departure around the end of next year. The 67-year-old former chief of Boeing has worked wonders at the auto manufacturer since he took the helm in 2006, seeing it through the global financial collapse and Great Recession without a U.S.-government bailout, supervising the launch of a fleet of worthy new products, and guiding Ford into leadership positions in infotainment technology and fuel economy.

And though Fields may be champing at the bit, Mulally is hardly ready to ride into the sunset just yet. He's got Ford moving on a number of important ongoing and new initiatives. They include:

Reviving the Lincoln brand. On Ford's to-do list for several years, this task finally looks like it might get done, as Lincoln gears up for an important handful of new products beginning with a vastly overhauled and redesigned MKZ sedan in the coming months. Ford CMO Jim Farley told Automotive News that a rebranded Lincoln will rely on social-media and digital marketing because every auto-luxury brand must be able to do so these days.

Electrifying the lineup. Ford chose a go-slow strategy with dedicated hybrids (like Toyota's Prius, which doesn't have a conventional-powertrain counterpart), plug-ins and all-electric vehicles while GM, for instance, leaped out to the cutting edge with Chevrolet Volt. Now, Ford will be launching a handful of highly electrified new models, including a new Focus Electric and the new C-Max "multi-activity vehicle," a hybrid that promises a price point low enough to appeal to the many millennials who would like to drive a hybrid but can't afford one.

Pushing marketing and technology leadership. Farley told the magazine that he will continue to push the envelope in marketing innovation as Ford has done frequently over the last few years. He likes what the brand has been able to accomplish by doing more pre-launch marketing, for instance, including a prime-time reality-TV series for the 2013 Escape and the Random Acts of Fusion web video series, an entertainingly social car giveaway starring Ryan Seacrest and Joel McHale for the 2013 new, redesigned Fusion. (Today kicked off 47 c despite knocks that Ford has taken lately for the inelegant operation of MyFord Touch, Farley insisted that "more than half [of Ford customers] buy Ford because of the technology in a Ford. That's dramatically higher than our competitors."

Optimizing participation in emerging markets. While Ford is struggling along with nearly every other automaker in the morass of the European market, the company is doing better in emerging markets such as China and South America. One way Mulally may continue the momentum is to order the addition of a low-cost subompact that it would sell globally, based on its current Fiesta model. The car would be Fiesta-sized but cost less than what is Ford's top-selling model in Europe and an important small-car nameplate in the United States.

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