DETROIT — Ford Motor Company President and CEO, Mark Fields, was the keynote speaker on the second day of the 40th Automotive News World Congress. It was held on Wednesday, January 13 at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center. He began with “It’s a very exciting time in the industry.”
Fields made the analogy about Apple which almost went bankrupt but they focused on the customer experience along with bringing new products into the picture. Ford’s objective is one foot for today and one foot towards the future. “We believe ‘going forward’ is great customer experience. That is something we are focusing on. We have the opportunity to change the way the world moves,” says Fields.
Ford is changing their approach to technology. At this year’s auto show, Ford had 1,000 iPads at their display during press days. “We invited these bloggers from all over the world to reach consumers where they are. This is around challenging customers and questioning tradition. That is why you are seeing us doing things very differently at auto shows or even not launching vehicles at auto shows and doing it on Facebook like we did with the new Explorer.”
Innovation is in our blood especially in a 113-year old company. “We have a good culture at Ford. We are a family company. A family supports each other in good times and bad.”
After a five-minute address, Fields sat down for a question and answer session with Jason Stein, publisher and editor of Automotive News.
Q: CES. Auto Show. Seacrest. How do you juggle all of that?
A: “Everybody talks about work/life balance. There is no such thing as a work/life balance, it’s one life. You have to love what you do.” Fields explained that he works seven days a week and loves it. He says that its knowing the importance of the auto industry to the country and the economy. “
Q: Wall Street was unimpressed, what’s with those guys?
A: “We are not going to get discouraged. We are going to continue to drive the business forward and focus on growth and returns. We have to listen to our customers and investors. We want to put great cars and trucks on the road. To a certain degree, they are waiting to see how we do in the next downturn. Our approach as a company as you’ve seen in our financial results and our structure is to be very physically fit. We want to remain profitable and we want to have a sustainable dividend. If that happens, we will get rewarded.”
Q: You rolled out a complete plan of how you want to transform the business. And somebody says, you’re kind of like Kodak?
A: “We are not afraid of disruption. We are disrupting ourselves. You heard earlier about what that disruption is. We have leadership positions with our connectivity in our SYNC systems, with our autonomous driving in that we’ve been in it for 10 years. We are embracing this as an opportunity.”
Q: Where did Lincoln get off track?
A: “Lincoln got back on track,” Fields answered. “I’ve done this before. We have a very clear view of how we are positioning Lincoln and how it has to be differentiated and relevant. It’s going to be a journey but we’re making good progress.”
Q: Do you think of expanding brands?
A: “Never say never. We are real happy with the Ford and Lincoln brands.”
Q: Do you see any market changes in your sales approach in 2016?
A: “We have 12 global product launches this year. But we are going to keep pushing the envelope on different marketing approaches. How consumers consume their marketing is very very different. It’s a lot more digital. When you look at our go-to market strategy, we are going to have a full year of a lot of new products to launch.”
Q: What did you learn from Alan Mullaly?
A: “I learned the power of positive leadership.”
Q: Are you worried about Apple or Google?
A: “I think these non-traditional competitors…first off I think at the end of the day, it’s good for the consumer. But secondly I think it motivates us even more. We are disrupting ourselves.”
The Borg Warner Championship trophy was presented to last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya. He and team owner Roger Penske received a smaller version of the trophy known as the Baby Borg.
“The first person I want to thank is Roger Penske for giving me this opportunity to do this, Chevy, Borg Warner and Verizon and everybody that supports our program,” Montoya said. “It’s cool that I won the race. It’s such a team effort and that is something that I got to thank Roger for; we got an amazing team. We got the best cars. So every week when you go to the race track, we got one of the best cars. You got to deliver, it makes it tough.”
Roger has won 16 Baby Borg trophies as a team owner. He is known as the Captain. “When you look at that trophy, you understand what it means. I’ve used racing as a common thread through my business for now, I guess 40 years. It shows performance, dedication and certainly integrity and drive. My love affair with the automobile started and never stopped. I’m not sure we’re going to have a driverless car race, but I guess I’m listening to intelligence all this week. You’ll be giving out a trophy for that before long. I want to win that 17th and 100th running.”
The 2015 PwC Global Automotive Shareholder Value Awards were also presented that evening. The winners were:
- Lithia Motors, Inc. for highest total shareholder return over a one-year period and a three-year period for U.S. Automotive retailers
- Peugeot SA for highest total shareholder return over a one-year period and a three-year period for Global Automotive Vehicles Manufacturers
- Calsonic Kansei Corporation for highest total shareholder return over a one-year period for Global Automotive Parts Suppliers
- Plastic Omnium for highest total shareholder return over a three-year period in that same category