Blog: Dave LeggettMark Fields interview

Dave Leggett | 23 April 2007

I interviewed Ford’s Mark Fields on Friday in his office at the Product Development Centre in Dearborn. He seemed on good form and I think I got some interesting answers out of him. I’ll be writing up the full Q&A transcript just as soon as I can. Good to know that he reads just-auto (he said he takes the RSS feed).

I don’t think he said anything all that unexpected, but it was a good run-through on where Ford is today in the US and where it’s trying to get to. He does have a vision that acts as an underlay to strategic and tactical thinking. He touched on that vision when I asked him about the Ford brand and what it really means, its core values.

Though global in its operational scope, Ford is at heart American and helped build the American middle class on a wave of confidence and optimism that shaped America’s economic transformation in the twentieth century. The blue oval is maybe an American consumer icon not unlike the mighty Coca Cola.

I was reflecting on the state of Ford and GM on the plane home. For both, if they can get through the current painful restructuring and reacquire a sound financial footing, end the share slide at home, a kind of reinvention is surely possible. They are both sitting on massive volume in North America and are doing the right things in terms of product, adjusting the manufacturing footprint and better integrating global operations. The problems are mainly in North America.

Going forward, a difficult issue in the domestic market is a ‘perception gap’. Even if a Ford Fusion performs every bit as well as a Toyota Camry, consumer perceptions lag and many will mistakenly believe that the Ford is an inferior product. That perception (true or not) will take time to change.

And on the cost side there’s a problem beyond excess capacity in North America; there’s the healthcare and legacy stuff that Detroit has to deal with. Estimates vary, but (say) a $1,500 cost hit per vehicle that Toyota doesn’t have is undoubtedly a considerable handicap. There’s the politics of that, the public posturing, the playing to constituencies and the private, cosy chats. Bottom line: Detroit is at a considerable competitive disadvantage because of its UAW deals. That’s not at all easy to sort out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Mark Fields


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