LAS VEGAS — The last time Jim Farley stepped into the Bellagio hotel's Grand Ballroom to address a national meeting of dealers here, Ford Motor Co. was on the brink of crisis. It was April 2008, six months after Ford had lured Farley from Toyota to help it steer through a steep downturn.
A decade later, Farley was in the same room, again addressing an uneasy retail network questioning Ford's future. "It's a comeback story, but it's a different comeback story," Farley said. "We just happen to have a lot more money in the bank, but we want it just as bad. We want to be the best."
Ford also has an abundance of skeptics, including Wall Street analysts, anxious employees and some of the dealers it spent last week working to reassure. It has even started to see customer loyalty, a longtime strength of the Ford brand, dip slightly, prompting a newfound marketing focus on retention instead of conquesting.
Ford used this year's annual dealer gathering to offer the clearest look to date at its plan under CEO Jim Hackett and to rally its retail body with an emotional appeal. It vowed to freshen showrooms through shorter product development cycles and revealed plans to add affordable nonsedan models to the lineup, alter vehicle allocations to raise profit margins and launch an edgy advertising campaign that plays up the company's history.
Ford is trying to psych up its North American dealer body as it begins a difficult $11 billion global restructuring that will stretch into the next decade.
While North American margins may be improving, Ford is losing money in key markets including China, Europe and South America and has indicated it plans to overhaul its operations in those countries. It's expected to post a decline in third-quarter earnings on Wednesday, Oct. 24.