Europe woes won't derail Ford's momentum: Ford execs

Jan 15 2013, 11:02 IST
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SummarySecond-largest US automaker doubled its dividend last week based on the financial strength.

A more profitable lineup and lower costs protect Ford Motor Co from persistent weakness in Europe and increased competition in the US auto market, Ford executives said on Monday.

The second-largest US automaker, which has been led by Chief Executive Alan Mulally since 2006, doubled its dividend last week based on the financial strength of its first three quarters of 2012. The company will report fourth-quarter results later this month.

"Not every part of the business is where we ultimately want it to be, but overall, the company is performing very well," the automaker's chairman, Bill Ford, told reporters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.

"It's a signal of confidence in the company in where we've been but more importantly where we're going," he said, referring to Ford's decision last Thursday to raise the dividend.

Overhauling its Europe operations is one of Ford's chief challenges in the upcoming year. The company is also growing in China and investing in its upscale Lincoln brand to attract younger, more affluent buyers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. auto market is set to grow more competitive as companies seek refuge from Europe, which is expected in 2013 to post its sixth straight year of sales declines. Last year, U.S. auto sales reached their highest level since 2007 last year and industry analysts and executives expect the region to make further gains in 2013.

"A lot of competitors are looking at this market as a healthy one and directing more of their resources and potentially more of their production here," Ford's chief operating officer, Mark Fields, told reporters on Monday. "So we have to guard against that."

Ford has spent the last six years revamping the business, lowering its break-even point and cutting fixed costs, which made the company less responsive to changes in the economy.

Ford analyzed a variety of scenarios before doubling the dividend, including running financial tests that factored in a much more serious downturn in Europe, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told reporters.

"Even based on doing some severe downturn scenarios, we felt we could sustain this dividend," Shanks said.

'STRONG MOTIVATION'

Mulally is credited with turning around Ford while avoiding the federal bailouts needed to save its crosstown rivals General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC in 2009. Under his "One Ford" strategy, Ford has adopted global platforms that allow the company to achieve economies of scale.

"The structure of the business, particularly here in North America, has improved so dramatically that

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