According to Ford Motor's own projections, as obtained by the New York Times, Toyota will soon overtake Ford as the #2 automaker in terms of domestic sales. This news of the continued borg-like dispatching of US auto buyers by ToMoCo must have been a shock to no one. In truth — although FoMoCo folks argue otherwise — this is a pretty decent-sized ego bodyblow to the Dearborn-based automaker's "no-no" spot. And it'll leave a bruise, considering roughly 4,600 Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the US sweating over every number. I'm imagining all of them wondering the same thing as they read the news this morning. What the hell's going on up there in Dearborn — who the hell's leaking "top secret" suckage figures? Can you imagine the chaos in the office of Cisco Codina, FoMoCo veep for sales, marketing and dealer relations, as he's forced to check the 4,600 voicemail messages he's likely received since 9 am?
But who is at fault for all this? I happen to think Ford's brought it on themselves.
Yes, I know the Times claims
"high gasoline prices, quality issues and a lack of fuel-efficient small cars..."
have caused a reduction in share from 25% six years ago to the anemic internal projection of 14% in 2007. It's true the marketplace is shifting, but is the cost of owning a gas-inefficient vehicle the primary cause of Ford's narrowing pie slice?
Americans have shown themselves willing to aim higher on major purchases (can someone say housing bubble?). They'll consider more expensive vehicles if they're well-designed, unique or offer good value for money. Take the expanding sales of Toyota's FJ Cruiser and, as hinted in the Times, the potential for the new Tundra pickup. In both cases, it's truly bold product design (though, possibly helped by the "Prius trickle-down effect" on Toyota's brand image), not fuel efficiency that wins the sale. But at Ford, during the past six years, bold design has been rarer than a Hanukkah parade on Michigan Avenue, save for on a select few vehicles like the Mustang.
And if design's not there, dubious business decisions like killing its best-selling car (Taurus) while simultaneously launching another four-door sedan with next-to-nil name recognition (Five Hundred) — won't win any awards for corporate governance. Although a few new products already out (the Fusion triplets) or on the way (the "Dave-y" Edge) show some manner of spark, there's not nearly enough "Bold Moves" on the product side to hit dealer lots, at least until the 2010 model year.
As much as they'd like to blame external influences, the product problem rests squarely on the shoulders of execs who haunt Dearborn's glass house. Former boss Bill Ford the scion flubbed his visionary test, preferring navel gazing and espresso shots to the drudgery of forming a competent management team to right the family yacht. Now it's up to new CEO Alan Mulally to find FoMoCo's mojo and end the market share decline, or else Ford will cede the number-two spot to Japan's number-one carmaker permanently, which as the Times suggests is already fait accompli.