After facing several trying years battling the faltering U.S. economy, the outlook at Ford Motor Co. has a glimmer these days. And James Farley Jr., the company’s vice president for marketing, is part of an executive team that helped make it happen.
From the company’s revamp of its overhead capacity numbers to a realization of the common qualities global customers seek in a vehicle, Farley detailed the strategic decisions that have helped guide the company toward a more vibrant future.
Farley shared Ford’s recent challenges and successes with a group of journalists gathered in Indianapolis for the 2012 Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference.
Paul Ingrassia, deputy editor-in-chief at Reuters, led the conversation with Farley on Thursday afternoon that was packed with nonstop questions from business writers and editors. Below are some of the highlights:
On Ford shrinking its overhead capactiy: “We have finally addressed the overhead capacity. The U.S. quickly went from 16 or 17 million (units of) vehicles to 10 million…The volume dropped 70 percent. We really had to look ourself in the mirror and address the over capacity in the industry.”
On understanding the commonalities global customers seek in a vehicle: “We found many customers wanted the same thing in an automobile. That really changed things. It forced all of us, especially at Ford, to look at our European cars and wonder ‘why we couldn’t offer the same automobiles in multiple markets?’”
On the company’s commitment: ”If we don’t make our cars better than someone elses, we’re not going to make it…We made a bet on excellence in the product.”
On if the durability of Ford’s comeback…will it last? “It’s too early to tell. I wish I could say yes, but we as a team are looking at the first chance of building a sustainable company for years to come. The capability is there for the first time. The culture is there for the first time… I think we have opportunity.”
On demand of alternative vehicles, from small to electric: ”The bottom live is changed behavior. In the last 90 days we’ve seen people running into small cars. Twenty five percent of our industry now is small cars.”
On his all too famous quote that he would “beat Chevrolet on the head with a bat” after he accepted a job Ford: “We are in a competitive industry. It’s as simple as that. When we had to let people go, I saw the families in the supermarket. They could come up to me and say, ‘why did you fire my husband?’
I’m a human being. It’s hard for me to overlook the impact of a bankruptcy on the people…I was disappointed as a professional working in this industry for over 25 years that some of the greatest companies were not making it.”