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Ford's Honest Take on Toyota and its Future

When I walked in to dinner with Ford CEO Alan Mulally on Wednesday night, I knew the menu would include a tasty entree, a sweet dessert, and a healthy dose of candor. All courtesy of the "outsider" trying to turnaround the struggling automaker.

I expected the honesty since that's what I found while covering Mulally as he turned around Boeing Commercial Airplanes. And at this dinner, he was forthright in his praise of Toyota .

Why does he admire Toyota? He answered, "What I'm really a fan of is its (Toyota's) efficient design and manufacturing"

When talking about making cars that sell, he dismissed the often heard criticism of Toyota models lacking pizzazz by sarcastically saying, "Toyota is bland and lacks styling? Really? Really?"

Mulally's candor is refreshing and I think it will help Ford as it tries to turnaround a line-up that has plenty of meat and potato models but few head turners. You want a full size pick-up that will do it all? You can't beat the F-series. You want a sedan that will wow neighbors? That might be tougher. Even Ford's president of the America's, Mark Fields, admitted that in Ford's line-up only the Mustang, Fusion, Edge and Super Duty pick-up actually make people say, "Wow! Is that a Ford?" when they are seen on the street.

If Mulally is going to bring Ford back, it will ultimately come down to product. And while the company could certainly use more head-turners, what it really needs are more "solid models" people want. Fewer lackluster Freestyle crossover utility vehicles and more Edge CUV's.

If Mulally can get his team to consistently come up with models that matter, then the turnaround he believes in, will work. And that's the honest truth.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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