DETROIT – Ford Motor Co.'s still-secret Way Forward plan is focused on customer service, “reflective learning” and efficiency, key executives say.
Full disclosure of the restructuring plan will not come until Jan. 23, but Executive Vice-President and President of the Americas Mark Fields and Anne Stevens, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Americas, say a better targeting of Ford brands to customer needs is a big part of the new direction.
Anne Stevens: “I'm feeling positive.”
“One of the key things about this Way Forward (plan) is the customer,” Fields, says. “Going to the market with a point of view, focusing on our brands and who are our customers, focusing our approach to our market, focusing internally on how we go about doing our business.”
Fields says the Jan. 23 announcement will be a “comprehensive look at the business,” but it won't be a “laundry list of 200 key measurements” the auto maker is setting out to achieve.
“We're going to be very focused, but it's going to be a very balanced set of metrics that looks at the revenue side of the equation, looks at the cost side of the equation, looks at the brand side of the equation, and then ultimately looks at the financial performance side of the equation,” he says.
“And the two very key elements are quality and our customer satisfaction.”
Stevens says the most important part of the Way Forward is “reflective learning,” indicating a focus on a continuous-improvement approach in its operations and methodologies.
The efficiency component means plant closings and job cuts, but Ford officials are not hinting at what facilities might be affected or how extreme the reduction will be in employment rolls.
Sean McAlinden, chief economist and vice president-research for Ann Arbor, MI-based Center for Automotive Research, predicts Ford will shutter 10-13 plants and slash 30,000 hourly jobs.
Both executives defend Ford's revitalization program undertaken two years ago, which, like the Way Forward, was aimed at shoring up U.S. automotive operations.
The plan accomplished several things, Fields says, “but a number of external elements changed” forcing this latest round of restructuring.
Asked why she believes the Way Forward will solve problems other restructurings have not, Stevens becomes a bit confrontational.
Pointing to a blue band on her wrist that promotes Ford's American heritage with the company's latest mantra, “Red, White and Bold,” Stevens says, “I'll give you an example of what bold is: I look you in the face and say 'Yeah, I know the answer to that, but I don't want to give you an answer because you are going to write a negative sound bite, and I'm not feeling negative.' I'm feeling positive.”
Fields is bullish on the American image Ford is trying to project in the hope “American” will become synonymous with “quality.” (See related story: Ford Preparing to Earn Bragging Rights as America's Car Company)
“We need to be who we are,” Fields says. “You hear about German excellence and engineering. So I think that you probably walk around our stand and see more American flags than at some of the other American car companies.”
Stevens adds that the luxury of the Lincoln brand is similarly American and can pull its weight on the market as well as any of its competitors.
“We're not going to copy Lexus; some of the Lexus buyers will buy some of our products,” she says. “I'd bet some of the Lexus buyers are going to buy that (Lincoln cross/utility) MKX because it's great and they're going to love it…we are proud of who we are.
“We're in touch with who we are and who our customers are and when we are at our best, we are Ford Motor Co. We are the Ford oval, and we are Lincoln and Mercury. And when we're in touch with that, then we are great.”
The pending cutbacks no doubt will hamper all departments at Ford, including design.
“There is no question we are reducing resources,” says Peter Horbury, executive director of design for Ford's North American marques. He hopes that the advances Ford has made in computer design will compensate for hits his department will take.
A sharpening of the product portfolio also may help redefine the workload.
“Part of the process in the last few months is looking at who is a Ford customer, who is a Lincoln customer – and what segment we don't need to be in,” says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president-product development.