Ford to trim car range, focus on bakkies and SUVs

By Time of article published Oct 4, 2017

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Detroit - Ford's new CEO plans to cut $14 billion (R190bn) in costs, drop some car models and focus the company's resources on pick-up trucks, SUVs and electric vehicles as part of a renewed effort to win over skeptical investors.

Jim Hackett, who became Ford's CEO in May, met with around 100 investors in New York on Tuesday to lay out his plans for the future. He said getting the company lean and flexible will help it handle the changes that the motor industry is facing, from car-sharing to self-driving vehicles, to the shift to electric cars.

"I feel a real sense of urgency for what we're doing here," Hackett said.

Hackett and his executive team spent the summer reevaluating Ford's operations after former CEO Mark Fields was ousted in May. Hackett traveled to Russia and Turkey and visited North American plants and Ford's Silicon Valley research center as part of his review.

He said he was impressed by the talent at Ford, but wants to update factories and speed product development and decision-making. One of his first moves was to pare down the number of people reporting to him. Hackett has eight direct reports, compared to 18 for Fields.

Ford told investors it expects to reduce material costs by $10 billion (R135bn) by 2022 through new deals with suppliers and simpler designs. The company plans to share more parts between vehicles and reduce the options available for configuring a car. For example, customers can now order a Ford Fusion sedan in 35 000 possible combinations. Ford is reducing that to 96.

Ford also says it will cut $4 billion (R54.2bn) in engineering costs through 2022 by making fewer prototypes and reducing product-development time.

It plans to cut one-third of its engine development costs and redeploy them to electric and hybrid vehicles. Ford plans to introduce 13 new electrics and hybrids over the next five years, including a small electric SUV that's coming in 2020.

The company plans to reallocate $7 billion (R95bn) from cars to SUVs and trucks. Global demand for those vehicles is rising, and they are critical to Ford's bottom line. Jim Farley, head of Ford's global markets, said Ford plans more off-road SUVs like the upcoming Ranger-based Bronco for North America and more low-end small SUVs as well as seven-passenger SUVs for China.

The carmaker plans to cut some cars from its lineup too, but didn't name them. Farley said Ford will still offer small cars, like the Focus, but will stick to more expensive - and more profitable - versions.

Ford emphasised that it's open to new partnerships, such as its recent agreement with Mahindra to cooperate on mobility, electric cars and other projects. It is also working with ride-hailing company Lyft on self-driving technology and with China's Zotye Automobile about an electric car partnership.

The company says its vehicles will get smarter, with 90 percent of its global vehicles getting modem connectivity by 2020. That will allow things like software updates or apps that help drivers find parking. Ford can differentiate itself by offering, say, connected commercial vans that help small businesses keep track of their deliveries.

"We have created a box of assets that we can pull out and use for various things," Klevorn said.

"Straddling the now and the future will be tricky, especially in terms of profitability," said Michelle Krebs, an executive analyst for the car-buying site

Investors have been critical of Ford for waiting too long to bring a long-range electric vehicle to market, as GM did with the Chevrolet Bolt. They also struggled to understand Ford's plans to compete in autonomous cars.

"In the past few years, Ford simply hasn't had a compelling narrative that investors could latch onto," Barclay's analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a recent note to investors.


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