Ford's Fields: 'Automotive has all of the excitement of Silicon Valley'

Ford COO Mark Fields: This is "the most exciting time for the auto industry in the last 25 years." Photo credit: GLENN TRIEST

DETROIT -- Driven by the rise of the millennial generation and a global growth boom, the auto industry is in the midst of a new golden age, said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co. COO, in a speech Tuesday at the Automotive News World Congress. The industry should take advantage of that to lure new talent, he said.

Fields called it "the most exciting time for the auto industry in the last 25 years."

"There is no more exciting business than the one we are in. Automotive has all of the excitement of Silicon Valley -- and, quite frankly, it is time we started acting and recruiting new hires that way. That certainly is our approach at Ford."

The industry is experiencing dynamic and far-reaching changes, he said. A number of interesting trends are driving the changes, he said.

An expanding middle class around the globe is creating a new class of consumers.

"There are 2.1 billion people reaching driving age in countries where the number of middle-income consumers is growing. These countries have huge potential for growth of first time buyers," he said.

And China isn't the only country growing by leaps and bounds. Others include Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Nigeria.

Growth of small cars and luxury sales are pushing industry growth from different ends.

"Today the luxury segment accounts for 8 percent of the total global market," he said. "Globally, the luxury market is forecast to add approximately 2.3 million vehicles in the next five years -- with lots of opportunity in markets like China, the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Brazil."

In China alone, sales of all luxury goods will rise 18 percent a year to $28.2 billion by 2015. And 85 percent of those luxury buyers in China are under 45 years old, Fields said.

Generation Xers and millennials are leading the migration to luxury globally.

Ford and other carmakers need to learn to understand these customers "in a whole new way," said Fields.

"The vehicles we produce will need to fit the lifestyles, preferences and definitions of value in emerging markets," he said.

Millennials are open to new forms of vehicle ownership -- ZipCar for example.

"When they do buy cars, millennials' expectations of car ownership could parallel their expectations of technology -- where upgrading every two years is the norm."

The growth of women buyers is a major development.

"The millennial generation marks another important shift in the auto industry. It will be the first generation where women buyers outnumber male buyers.

"In the U.S. there are 164 women with bachelor's degrees for every 100 men among 23-year-olds," he said.

Fields spoke the day after Ford launched one of its most important vehicles in years -- the aluminum-based 2015 F-150 pickup -- at the Detroit auto show.

"It is clear from everything happening this week in Detroit and from developments around the world that big things are taking place in the global auto industry. Our industry is on the upswing. Our priorities are straight. Momentum is on our side."

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