While acknowledging that losing a third of the salaried workforce has been an "upheaval" for employees, Ford CEO and president Alan Mulally said the company restructuring is "generally going well".
In somewhat of a fireside chat with the press to open the 2007 New York International Auto Show this morning, Mulally was charming and entertaining while asserting that Ford is in a strong position to reverse its financial and product slump.
"If you want to be in the automotive business, this is the best time to be at Ford," he said when asked about company morale following a large force reduction. At the same time, he instructed his posse, including North American boss Mark Fields, to stand up. "Look at the smiles on their faces," he quipped.
Mulally's keynote address to open press days at the show was really a few minutes of off-the-cuff remarks about his decision to join Ford, and he gave a 4-point rundown on the automaker's restructuring goals. Mulally had no pre-written speech, didn't use a teleprompter and walked casually around stage as he talked to the large gathering. He didn't make any announcements, either; although he did offer a hint about a future luxury hybrid. When asked about luxury hybrids, Mulally looked at Fields, then said, "Nothing I can talk about right now."
One of Mulally's funniest stories revolved around the Ford HySeries Drive, a plug-in series hybrid concept with auxiliary fuel-cell power. The car has two power inputs: an electrical plug up front and a hydrogen filler plug in the rear. A photo op was scheduled with President Bush on at the White House.
"We had to make sure the President plugged the electrical cord into the electric outlet, not the hydrogen," said Mulally, who added that he literally had to "manhandle" the president to the front of the car to avoid a refueling faux pax.
Mulally did not outline a definitive hybrid strategy for Ford, noting that the company is working on numerous alternative fuel options.
"The important thing is that we're working on (hybrids)," said Mulally.
Mulally did go into more detail on the company restructuring plan. He outlined a 4-point strategy that started with the layoffs and divesting of non-core manufacturing.
"We have to restructure down to real demand," said Mulally.
The next two steps are accelerating product development and obtaining financing.
"We will have 70 percent of the product line refreshed by 2008 and 100 percent refreshed by 2010," promised Mulally.
Another product goal for Ford is reducing its dependency on trucks and SUVs for profit.
"A few years ago, 30 percent of our sales were cars," noted Mulally. "Now its 46 to 50 percent. That's a tremendous transformation for Ford."
The final point is "working together," noting that cooperation with dealers, suppliers and even internally with Ford's worldwide operations is essential to the restructuring success.
While taking questions from the audience, Mulally made no commitment to upgrading the Crown Victoria platform or even to a new RWD platform. He also said, "I believe in Jaguar" but did not elaborate on plans for the luxury maker.