NEW YORK – Dispelling any thoughtsmight consign its Lincoln Div. to the same scrap heap that holds the remains of the Mercury, Merkur and Edsel brands, Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth says the auto maker is “investing heavily” in new Lincoln products.
“Our focus is on making Lincoln a great brand in the U.S. market,” Booth tells Society of Automotive Analysts members here.
Last year, whenannounced it was closing down the Mercury brand, the company said it would bring out seven new Lincoln models over the next four years. The first of the new Lincolns was the MKX cross/utility vehicle that debuted late last year.
Ford does not intend to introduce Lincolns in China at this time, despite the booming automotive market there, he says, but it does want to be fully competitive in the world’s biggest auto market with a portfolio of Blue Oval products.
“The economics are different in China,” Booth says, while insisting Ford can invest there without starving other markets it competes in. “We will increase our presence in China,” he promises.
Booth predicts success in China will be driven by new products, and Ford plans to introduce 15 new vehicles there by 2015. He also sees a huge potential in the other three members of the BRIC emerging markets – Brazil, Russia and India – over the next several decades, with much of that growth coming from small cars.
Ford plans to invest heavily in Brazil over the next four years, adding new products and production capacity. Russia also will see new investment. A third shift has been added to the St. Petersburg plant, and Ford recently formed a joint venture with domestic auto maker Sollers.
Ford will spend $500 million in India, where it plans to launch two new products. Its Figo small car already is off to a fast sales start there.
Booth says it's too early to tell how the Japanese industry will fare after the March earthquake and tsunami disasters that crippled many plants there. “We're thinking the Japanese (auto makers) may have some short-term (sales) losses,” he says.
But he declines to say how Ford’s sales could be impacted by the Japanese shortfall. “We've managed to keep product pipeline full around the world.”
Much of Ford’s efficiency is paced by global models, such as the Focus and Fusion cars, Transit Connect van and new Ranger compact pickup (to be sold in many markets worldwide, but not the U.S.).
At the same time, Booth promises Ford will not neglect North American products, which include the Mustang muscle car, Explorer SUV, F-150 pickup, Edge cross/utility vehicle and Taurus large car. The auto maker will turn over its entire product portfolio at least once over the next five years.
Overall, he says, Ford is targeting profitable growth through improvements in scale and growing volume.
Ford will accomplish this while also cutting its debt. A spokesman tells Ward’s the auto maker currently has $21.3 billion in cash, with $30.7 billion in total liquidity. Debt is $16.6 billion.
Booth says Ford needs to get its financial obligations up to investment grade. “Our debt spreads are approaching investment grade,” he claims.
However, he declines to comment on the fact Ford’s stock is being traded in a narrow range and doesn't show signs of a price breakthrough.