CEO Bill Ford and his leadership team at Ford Motor Co. missed an opportunity to show the world that their Way Forward is a viable plan to restructure the automaker's North American operations. They must be more forthcoming and do it soon.
The plan they laid out on Monday, Jan. 23, sounds a lot like the company's Revitalization Plan that was launched four years ago. It also sounds like what every other automaker in the world is trying to do: develop good products, improve quality, cut costs and make sales match capacity or vice versa.
But there weren't enough details about how the company can accomplish what must be done, and there were too many unanswered questions: What happens to the product portfolio, especially the vehicles made at the plants that will be shuttered? How will Ford stabilize its market share this year and increase it long term? Which assembly and parts plants are still on the chopping block? Ford named only five of the 14 plants that will be shuttered, leaving thousands of Ford employees uncertain of their own futures. Will Ford whipsaw local unions and communities to get the best deal? How does the mysterious new low-cost North American manufacturing site fit in? Where are the objectives by which Ford's stakeholders can measure the progress of the plan? One of the few metrics Bill Ford set is to have North American operations in the black by 2008 at the latest.
To be sure, there are encouraging signs: "Change or die" is the right attitude because it recognizes that Ford's insular culture is a counterproductive force in this fast-moving industry. Despite the lack of details, some of the new product looks good, especially the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers. If Ford builds the Fairlane and a Lincoln sibling, they could shake up the family hauler category. Commonizing parts and building more vehicles on global architectures are good strategies, especially choosing Mazda and Volvo technology for the most important architectures.
Ultimately, the Way Forward will succeed or fail based on how well Ford executes the plan's details. Regrettably, there are still too many holes. For the sake of its stakeholders, Ford must fill them soon.