Tag Archives: Ford Motor Company

The Lincoln Motor Company

Introducing-The-Lincoln-Motor-Company

What is going on with Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln The Lincoln Motor Company? Ford says the brand is going strong and even gave it a new name at the beginning of this year. But much of the automotive press has dismissed Lincoln and some have even predicted its death. Nevertheless, they continue introduce new models, but we have to wonder what Ford’s plans are for the “new” Lincoln Motor Company. To better understand what Lincoln’s future may hold, we need to take a look at its competition and its newest products.

Competition

Lincoln's new MKZ is too much like Ford's Fusion

Lincoln’s new MKZ is too much like Ford’s Fusion

Lincoln has long been the luxury brand of Ford. That is to say, Lincolns have simply been nicer versions of Ford vehicles. However, the automotive world is changing, and Ford has been leading the charge with its global platforms. But Lincoln seems to have been left behind and lost its character. What does Lincoln do that is different from Ford? Not much really. So, who are Lincoln’s top competitors?

Lexus? Yes and no. Lexus has been much like Lincoln in that it has only sold rebadged versions of Toyota, but Lexus has really stepped it up. New Lexus models such as the GS and the soon to be released IS prove that Lexus has a new target: Germany. Lexus is going after BMW and Mercedes by building rear wheel drive cars with a fair amount of power and competitive handling. Lincoln makes front wheel drive cars with very little power. Not Lexus models are sporty, so Lincoln could compete with the luxury and styling elements of these models, but even here Lincoln falls a little short.

Infiniti? Yes and no. Like Lexus, Infiniti is reinventing itself by creating models that offer sportiness and luxury. But again, Lincoln falls short.

Cadillac? No. The ATS, CTS, and XTS are all rear wheel drive and have a decent amount of power (when properly equipped, but is for another post). Again, Cadillac is gunning for the Germans, and by all accounts, the all new ATS has brought them close. But Lincoln’s current offerings cannot compete with the power and handling these cars offer.

BMW and Mercedes? Hell no.

Buick? Finally a competitor for Lincoln. But Buick is about it. Much like Lincoln and Ford, Buick sells rebadged versions of Chevrolet vehicles (much like all GM’s brands, but again, that is for another day). They are all front wheel drive and are primarily sold to…more mature Americans. This accurately describes Lincoln.

So what does Lincoln need to do? Clearly they cannot keep selling rebadged Fords and compete only with Buick. Mercury was axed because the cars were only rebranding Fords, but so does Lincoln. So why did Ford keep Lincoln? Perhaps we are beginning to see why. There has been a lot of talk lately about Lincoln developing a rear wheel drive platform based on the current Mustang’s platform. Could this be used to take on the Germans and Japanese luxury carmakers? Can Lincoln pull off what Lexus has done over the past several years. I believe it can, but it is going to take some fresh ideas and fair amount of resources to do so.

Welcome the MKC

lincolnmkcconcept33hr

Yesterday, Lincoln unveiled the MKC, the new SUV concept it is bringing to the Detroit Auto Show. Based on Ford’s new Escape, the MKC does not look like a Ford. Some suggest it looks like an Infiniti or a Range Rover Evoque, but the important thing is that it has a design unique to Lincoln.

When I first saw the MKC this morning, I wondered why it was not a Ford. It would sell better as a Ford, and it would look great with Ford’s new Aston Martin-like styling. But the more I thought about it, this really needed to be a Lincoln. Lincoln needs a vehicle that has styling that differs from the Ford that shares its platform. This model is the first step for The Lincoln Motor Company to separate itself from Ford.

As I look at the MKC’s beautiful body and luxurious interior, there is one question nagging me. How will it drive? The Escape has been well reviewed, but the Lincoln MKC needs to be different. It needs to offer something more. As I discussed above with the cars, Lincoln’s SUVs need a new target. Land Rover seems like a good target for Lincoln. Like a Land Rover, the MKC offers great looks and a luxurious interior, but will the MKC perform off-road? We will have to wait to find out. There are already a wide variety of luxury SUVs on the market today but there are only two companies, that I can think of, that sell nicely equipped off-road capable SUVs: Land Rover and Jeep. These companies should be Lincoln’s target with all future SUV offerings.

We do not know much about the new MKC, or about the new Lincoln Motor Company’s future plans, and we may find out more about both over the next few days. But if the “new” Lincoln Motor Company wants to compete on global scale like Ford, they will need all new models with new goals. Rear wheel drive luxury cars and an off-road capable luxury SUVs would set Lincoln apart from Ford and could save the company.

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Book Review: American Icon

Bryce G. Hoffman. American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford motor Company. New York: Crown Business, 2012. 422 pp. $26.00 (Hardcover), ISBN 978-0-307-88605-7.

Today the automotive world looks to Ford Motor Company as a standard in quality in the industry. This had not always been the case. In fact, this is a very recent development, coming only in the last five years. Like General Motors and Chrysler, Ford had been viewed as complacent in the market and bloated in brands in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This was only made worse under the leadership of CEOs Alex Trotman and Jacques Nasser. In 2001, Bill Ford become CEO of the company that bore his family’s name, but he began to realize Ford was in poor shape, and he was not the man to run the company.

Automotive journalist Bryce G. Hoffman explores this early history briefly in his book American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company. Bill Ford realized that Ford was desperate and needed to find someone who could save it. The man chosen for the job was Boeing executive Alan Mulally. Mulally had worked at Boeing after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 when Boeing’s sales were cut by over 50% following the attacks, and Mulally began to cut Boeing and reorganize it into a global business. This record attracted the attention of Bill Ford and he brought him to Ford as CEO in September 2006.

Hoffman uses his connections, as well as the cooperation of Mulally and many within Ford, to tell the story of one of the greatest turn-arounds in business history. When Mulally arrived at Ford, he encountered a poison corporate culture that encouraged competition and backstabbing among its executives. His job was to save Ford from bankruptcy, by some estimates Ford was only a few months from this reality, but Mulally would have to train the executives to think, and act, as a team. He did this by having weekly meetings with all senior executives who were required to present the data from their respective departments to Mulally each week. He wanted openness, something that had never been stressed in Detroit.

CEO Alan Mulally, Chairman Bill Ford, and VP of North American Cars and Trucks Mark Fields

As the openness began to spread, the problems within Ford became clear to Mulally and this allowed him and the team to begin restructuring the company. His goals was to simplify the Ford lineup by eliminating the majority of its brands (Ford owned Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, and a stake in Mazda). At the same time, Mulally brought the organization methods used at Boeing to make Ford global. This organization saved Ford a great deal of money allowing them to sell the same cars worldwide and build a number of cars on the same vehicle platforms.

What set Ford apart was the fact that it was not bailed out by the United States government during the 2008 economic crisis. Ford had begun its restructuring two years before the meltdown and had seen the recession coming. It borrowed $23 billion in preparation for the crisis and came through the recession as a winner. The brand was praised by the public for not having to take federal bailouts like its competitors, but Ford had also begun improving quality and this was getting the attention of automotive publishers and Consumer Reports.

Hoffman’s description of Ford’s recovery is extremely detailed. This is due to his access to Ford executives and Mulally, but also due to the fact that he promised to not associate particular stories and quotes to their respective sources. This made people from Ford open up to Hoffman and he uses every piece of information to his advantage. His exploration of Ford’s restructuring is both informative and instructional.

The story of Ford’s resurgence is nothing short of amazing. It is striking similar to Steve Jobs’s return to Apple in 1997. But the one difference is Mulally. While Jobs is often described as a product visionary and, at times, difficult to work for, Mulally is more business minded and openly kind to employees at  every level of Ford. Both men’s systems of leadership have proven to be successful in the last decade despite their different leadership styles.

It may be a stretch to call Alan Mulally the greatest CEOs ever, but he is certainly the greatest automotive CEO in history. He knew how to read customers and the market and develop plans to meet both. Hoffman describes how the CEOs of GM and Chrysler scoffed at Mulally, an outsider, in 2006, but today Mulally is still head of Ford, they are no longer employed by the auto industry.

Hoffman’s analysis of Mulally’s business restructuring plans is the most important aspect of this book. The openness and sharing of ideas, weekly meetings with department heads, and a matrix organization system. He concludes that this plan is one that can be applied to a variety of businesses. Unlike books on Apple and Steve Jobs which specifically say their books are not intended to be instructional, Hoffman’s book is. The case of Ford and Mulally will likely be studied by business students in the future.

Hoffman has pieced together a great book that explains how Mulally was able to save Ford Motor Company. Mulally’s fight was not easy, battling the United Auto Workers, his executives, the government, and the Ford family. Each time, Mulally came out on top. The greatest fear at Ford today is when Mulally will retire. At 66, he is likely the oldest employee at Ford, if not in the auto industry. Many worry that his changes will not remain in place after he is gone. Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain, Ford is looking stronger now than it has it the history of the company, thanks to Alan Mulally. 

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