Greg Smith, the new president of the Americas at Ford Motor Co., must ensure that the company properly launches several new vehicles this fall, such as the Ford Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle sport wagon.
Smith is an engineer who spent most of his first two decades at Ford working in car and truck development. He spent the last 10 years at Ford Credit.
Smith spoke last month with Staff Reporter Amy Wilson.
What are the biggest challenges facing Ford's North American business?
We've got a great array of products coming. With that comes both challenges and opportunities.
It is a product business, and the new products will be extremely important to the company.
And with that comes the challenge: Over the next 60 to 90 days, we're, in North America, launching the most aggressive array of new products that we've ever done in the company's history.
The launches are going extremely well, (and) that requires a very large and focused team to make sure that happens.
Are supplier parks beyond those planned for Chicago and Hermosillo, Mexico, possible in North America?
We'll have to see what the results are. It's probably a little bit early to say that.
If you think of it systemically, having the parts and the supply system located by the assembly plant, it takes a lot of waste and inefficiency out of the total enterprise if it can be managed effectively.
How would you characterize the state of supplier relations?
With many of the suppliers it's very good. With some we've still got a ways to go.
If you think about public policy, a strong industry, strong sales and share, high quality, our interests and the suppliers are directly in line.
In other areas, there is a commercial relationship, and there is just going to be some natural level of friction.
Have you set any programs or initiatives in place since you came into the job, or will you carry forward what was already in place?
I strongly believe in and support the focus on basics that Jim Padilla led and put in place.
When I meet with employee groups, some of the first words I say are: "There is not going to be a change in strategy from me."
A big challenge for dealers this year is the reworking of the Blue Oval program. How is that going?
There is no conclusion yet. There have been a lot of discussions with the dealer council. The timetable is to have something in place to announce the fundamentals for the fall dealer meetings.
Are you worried that the improvement in customer satisfaction ratings will slip when CSI no longer is tied to a Blue Oval bonus payment?
It's something both we and our dealers are going to have to keep an eye on. But our dealers recognize that having satisfied customers is extremely important.
Some dealers who have made substantial facility investments and had counted on Blue Oval payments to support that debt worry about profitability.
We also care a great deal about dealer profitability. So we've got to look at the whole equation.
Are you satisfied with dealer profitability?
It's still a product business, and the wave of new products is very important to them. That's particularly true for the Lincoln-Mercury dealers.
The economic recovery will help also. There are parts of the economy that are still pretty weak, pretty soft. Texas has been slow to come back, and that's a very important market for the dealers and for us.
How would you rate Lincoln-Mercury dealer profitability right now?
It's a bit like quality. We'd like it to be better than it is.
We have seen some improvement from where it was.
Ford and Lincoln Mercury market shares haven't been good this year. Dealers are concerned.
Share is important, but we're also very focused on profitability. Ultimately we have to make money. We aren't going to chase share just for share's sake.
Given the structural costs you support, is there a U.S. share that you can't fall below?
No, there is not. It depends on the market and the segments and where the growth is and where the opportunities are. New products do make a difference. The F series has grown share in its segment, and it is a very contested and competitive segment.
We would expect the new product that we launch to have a similar impact on share.
We have taken actions both in the incentive world and the commercial and fleet world that has impacted share. But we look at retail share, and we look at spending, and we look at profitable share.