Just wait till Jan. 23, the Ford Motor Co. people said. Then you'll see Mark Fields' dramatic plan to reverse the company's stunning decline in North America.
Well, Jan. 23 came and went, leaving scared workers, mystified financial analysts and confused consumers. (An old college friend called me that evening. "Is this good or bad?" she asked. "Is Ford going out of business? If they say they're going to start making cars that people want to buy, what the heck have they been trying to make?")
Fields, the president of the Americas, and Ford Motor CEO Bill Ford, President Jim Padilla and CFO Don Leclair talked for 2½ hours to a mob of reporters and analysts.
And all we know is that at some vague time in the next six years (long after the soon-to-be released Toyota Camry will have been replaced again), Ford hopes to close 14 plants and eliminate oh, let's say 25,000 or 30,000 manufacturing jobs.
But Fields identified only five plants and about a quarter of the jobs to be cut. So as the sun rose on Jan. 24, Ford had just two classes of factory workers: the doomed and the anxious. What do you suppose the workers in Ford plants are talking about today: innovating for greater productivity, or what are we going to do if OUR plant closes?
About half of the prepared remarks bragged about Ford's many successes: Ford Credit, large pickups, the Mustang and Fusion and profits elsewhere in the world. This made for a murky message: We've done a lot of great things, and we have to change or die.
Meanwhile, Ford no longer will give earnings guidance but will certainly earn a profit in the North American automotive operations by 2008.
Here are some leftover questions for Mark Fields and Bill Ford:
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