Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Ford's Rebound: Something To Believe In Or Not?

Paul Sancya

In one week Ford has gone from being perceived as an automaker struggling to jump start its business, to a company and stock worth betting on. My how things can change in just a few days. So it's time to ask yourself: Do you believe Ford will come back?

The case for it received a big vote of confidence from Tracinda Corp., the investment firm representing billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian. Kerkorian's chief representative when it comes to sizing up auto investments, Jerry York, says Ford is conducting a stealth turnaround. He's right. Ford's progress hasn't received the kind of attention you would expect after beating street estimates and posting a couple of surprise profits 5 out of the last 6 quarters.

But Kerkorian's investment plus a profitable first quarter finally has investor's saying, "Hmmm, maybe this turnaround at Ford is different." After two failed re-organizations under former CEO, and current chairman, Bill Ford Jr., is it possible Alan Mulally has finally got the automaker back on track?

My gut says, yes but it's still too early to tell. What? Am I too chicken to completely believe in Ford? My answer is that this is not about being chicken. This is about showing me the metal.

Mulally and his crew have done the "easy" part of the turnaround in cutting costs through buyouts, job cuts, plant closings, and selling non-core brands. Those cuts are the primary reason ford's bottom line has improved.

Now comes the tough part. And Mulally knows it. Ford has too grow revenues with products that sell. Yes, Ford has the F-series pick-up which remains the best selling vehicle in the world. The new Edge cuv, and Fusion are doing a nice job. But beyond that I look at Ford's line-up and say to myself, "There's not much here to excite me."

Mulally will no doubt dispute that, and tell me the Taurus is great sedan with the kind of safety and quality buyers want. And he'll point out the new Flex "people mover" has the kind look that will attract both families and those wanting something different.

I agree about the Flex and disagree about the Taurus.

From my view, Ford's ultimate success will come by getting buyers back in showrooms and making Ford models winners across the board. And on that front, I think Ford still has work to do. If that changes, then this stealth turnaround will really start to make noise.

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