The Auto Industry View of Ford's Downsizing Plan

The Ford Motor Company will close 14 auto assembly plants in North America by 2012. Madeleine Brand talks to Automobile Magazine editor Jean Jennings about the economic and cultural implications of the plant closings.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Again, if you're just joining us, we're talking about today's announcement from the Ford Motor Company that it will cut at least 25,000 jobs, and close 14 facilities in North America over the next few years. We've asked the editor of Automobile magazine, Jean Jennings, to join us for her reaction to the news. And Jean Jennings, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.

Ms. JEAN JENNINGS (Editor, Automobile Magazine): Well, hi. How are you?

BRAND: Fine, thank you. So, these were pretty deep cuts, 25,000 jobs. Is this a big surprise?

Ms. JENNINGS: Well, it's not a surprise. This has been going on for several months. We've known this. It was only confirmed. There were no surprises today, whatsoever. It's the same number as General Motors has announced it's going to cut. But General Motors is a much bigger company than Ford.

So, in overall terms, it's a much deeper cut to Ford. On the other hand, Ford has a lot of money. I think they're going to have something like $12 billion, by the end of next year, in the bank? So, you know, they have the dough that General Motors doesn't have.

BRAND: Well, like GM, Ford is blaming high labor costs, pensions, and healthcare, and the like. Is that the main culprit, here?

Ms. JENNINGS: Well, you know, there is that, obviously. But they also underestimated Toyota. They underestimated Hyundai. Product is the first thing. It's not just that the labor costs. They've been slow to act.

You know, we have heard this from Ford over and over again. This is typical. Mark Fields is now on the, he's the upswing of a sine wave that has gone through Ford for years and years. If we remember, Jack Nasser, who was fired by the family, he was doing exactly the same thing, saying exactly the same things. We need to change the culture, here.

BRAND: And Mark Fields is currently running the North American operations?

Ms. JENNINGS: Well, yes, they brought him in to run Ford, the Americas. So, the thing we're waiting to see is how they change their culture, and if the family will be able to stomach it, because they couldn't stomach Jack Nasser. And this has happened in the past before Jack Nasser. You know, the bring in an outsider, he makes big changes, he changes the culture, the family freaks out, the family takes over, and, until they can't manage it, bring in someone from the outside and do the same thing over and over again.

So, how are they going to change their culture? It's currently a snake pit, an absolute snake pit. Mark Fields will hopefully bring a breath of fresh air there. It has been...

BRAND: When you say snake pit, what do you mean?

Ms. JENNINGS: I mean a backstabbing, hierarchical sort of mess inside at the highest levels of the company. So, we want to see who they cut at the top. We want to see how they're going to change the executive, the board room, what's going to happen at the top floor.

BRAND: Well, let's talk about two cars that were once really successful, the Ford Taurus and the Explorer. They are now on the chopping block. What happened?

Ms. JENNINGS: Oh, in the Explorer, what a disaster. They brought out a brand new vehicle at the beginning of November with their fingers crossed, and it sank like a stone. It just, it did nothing. It's a really nice vehicle. It's a big SUV. No one wants it. The Taurus just got really old. It was wonderful, but it wasn't replaced soon enough. That's all.

BRAND: All right. Jean Jennings, the Editor of Automobile magazine. Thanks so much.

Ms. JENNINGS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.