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Can Ford Stay On a Roll?

Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 | 9:53 AM ET
Ford
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Ford

As I've spent the last eight months going inside Ford and shooting our CNBC Documentary Ford: Rebuilding an American Icon, I've heard one question over and over.

Can Ford build on its success or will it be back in the dump three or four years from now?

Don't laugh.

I have heard that question from auto workers in Detroit, investors in New York and even a few skeptics in Europe. Ford's track record is well established. Every time this company gets on a roll, it loses focus and ultimately loses a lot of money. To his credit, even Ford Chairman Bill Ford told me his company has a troubling tendency to lose its way.

So now, with Ford enjoying one of its most profitable years ever, can Ford do something it has rarely done: Can it stay on a roll?

I think it can, at least for the next few years.

Those of you who aren't buying Ford probably think I'm guilty of drinking the Mulally Kool Aid. But from my perspective, look at what Ford has going in its favor:

  • A relatively fresh product line-up that should continue attracting buyers
  • It has loads of room to grow sales (and profits) in China, India and Southeast Asia
  • Its management team is as focused as any in the industry and Mulally is not going anywhere for at least a couple of years

That's not to say Ford is on Easy Street.

It faces plenty of hurdles including the UAW contract that comes up next September. And for all the talk about Lincoln being a slumbering luxury brand with loads of potential, I'm taking a wait and see approach on Ford's upscale brand. And sadly, Ford has seldom shown the ability to stay focused in good times.

So now comes the tough part Mr. Mulally. It's one thing to turn around a bloated company that has lost its way. It's a far tougher to turn a profit year in, year out. But my sense, after spending much of this year with Ford leaders is that the Blue Oval can shine for some time to come.

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___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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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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