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Ford's CEO in the Showroom

Monday, 2 Apr 2007 | 10:39 AM ET

When your company is losing market share and billions of dollars, it's not exactly the best time for a CEO to go in to a showroom to see how things are going on the front lines. But that's what Ford CEO Alan Mulally did on Friday. Did he learn anything from the experience? Did we learn anything about the state of business at Ford? Who knows.

Mulally visited Gilpin Ford in Southern California as part of his pledge to make good on a request a dealer made to Ford's top executive shortly after he took over the company. The idea: see first hand what it's like in the Ford showroom. And by all accounts, that's what Mulally did on Friday in Caifornia.

Because Ford PR limited coverage of Mulally's dealer days to one media outlet, it's hard to tell what Mulally thought of his experience. But let's be honest, sending the CEO to the top selling Ford dealership in California, it's hard to know if he got "the full experience" of what Ford dealers are facing.

When I've talked with Ford dealers I hear familiar complaints: there's not enough fresh new product, and the marketing support is weak. Sure, the new Edge SUV is a nice start, and the new Mercury is a mildly surprising successful new sedan. But the dealers want more, and they want it quickly. Unfortunately, turning on Ford's product spigot will take some time. Hence, Ford dealers are going through lean times. And without a compelling, major impact, marketing campaign, the dealers wait.

I suspect Mulally already knew this. He didn't need the California visit to tell him dealers are antsy. But as CEO he needs to make sure those dealers are "on board" with his vision for turning around the company. After all, they will be pushing the product. And so far, most dealers I've talked with are optimistic Mulally will eventually get the company back on track.

The key remains the product pipeline - and it's too early to tell if Ford's designers will come up with the hits this company needs. If they do, Mulally will be hailed as a hero with the dealers.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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