Ford get its Blue Oval -- and its mojo -- back
Bradford Wernle covers Ford Motor Co. for Automotive News.
Prior to last Tuesday, the public address system at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., had been used exactly twice, other than for fire drills. Those two dates were Sept. 29, 1987, when Henry Ford II died, and on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Last Tuesday, just before 4 p.m., Chairman Bill Ford Jr. took to the P.A. to announce that the Blue Oval was back.
Ford's emotional announcement came just moments after Moody's said it was upgrading Ford's debt from junk status to investment grade.
The upgrade, after seven years in junk status, paved the way for Ford to get back rights to the Blue Oval, the Mustang and F-150 names and other assets it had pledged as collateral in 2006 in exchange for a $23.5 billion restructuring loan. The loan helped Ford avert bankruptcy and invest in a generation of new vehicles, several of which are going on sale this year.
Had Ford defaulted on the loan, lenders in theory could have sold those assets to the highest bidder -- allowing, say, a Chinese automaker to launch its own Mustang in the United States.
After Bill Ford left the ground-floor security alcove where the P.A. microphone sits and stepped into the building's broad corridors, employees began spontaneously clapping.
Ford had been planning in advance for this day. Within 45 minutes, nearly 1,000 people gathered on the building's west lawn, where workers had laid out a huge tarp emblazoned with the Blue Oval. The company passed out blue and white T-shirts. Employees in white shirts filled out the Ford script letters, and those in blue filled out the background. (To see a time-lapse video of how the stunt came together, see autonews.com/oval.)
When Bill Ford emerged onto the lawn, a cheer erupted.
A few minutes earlier, he spoke briefly to reporters by phone: "When we pledged the Blue Oval, it was enormously emotional for me and my family. We weren't just pledging an asset, we were pledging our heritage."
Getting full rights to that asset back, he said, "feels wonderful."
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.