How Do Ford's Woes Play at the Auto Show?

In the wake of the biggest quarterly loss in the history of Ford Motor Co., prospective car buyers at the Washington Auto Show are asked what they think about Ford and its troubles.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Ford had another announcement this week. The company lost 12.7 billion dollars in 2006, its worst year ever. The company says most of that comes from costs associated with its restructuring, buying out workers and reorganizing the business. Ford's sales are expected to continue their slide through the year.

Unidentified Woman #1: Good morning everyone and welcome to the Ford display. A lot of the vehicles here for you to take a look at.

ROBERTS: We wanted to know what car buyers think about Ford and its problems, so we headed over the Washington auto show. Inside the cavernous Washington Convention Center, spokesmodels gestured lovingly toward the shiny new cars and beckoned to the weekend crowd, car guys kicking tires, kids pretending to drive, and couples arguing over whether they needed a car or a truck. At the Ford display, we talked to folks wandering between the big green pickup, the muscle car and the hydrogen electric hybrid.

Mr. MARTIN SHELL(ph): I'm Martin Shell and I'm from Arlington, Virginia.

ROBERTS: And do you drive a Ford now?

Mr. SHELL: No, I don't.

ROBERTS: Have you ever?

Mr. SHELL: No.

ROBERTS: What do you think Ford would have to do to get someone like you to buy one of their cars?

Mr. SHELL: I think just more interesting designs. They seem to be pretty boring right now, what they have out there.

ROBERTS: Can I get your name and where you're from?

Mr. KENNETH GOODWIN: Kenneth Goodwin, Brandywine, Maryland.

ROBERTS: And what brought you to the auto show today?

Mr. GOODWIN: My buddy John Nesbitt(ph). We brought our sons out and my nephew as well, just to make it a guy's day.

ROBERTS: Do you drive a Ford, any of you?

Mr. GOODWIN: Not anymore. Not by choice though. I just went from a Ford to a Chevy, but my work car is a Chevy though.

ROBERTS: Did you like the Ford?

Mr. GOODWIN: The Ford was fine. Yes, I had an Explorer. I had two Explorers and I had a Ford Ranger as well. He's a Ford guy too.

Mr. JOHN NESBITT: I'm John Nesbitt, Temple Hills, Maryland. I had a Ford Explorer Sport Trac, was my last Ford vehicle. And I drove it until the wheels fell off, basically. And I love trucks, so I just wanted to try a couple of different vehicles. I tried the Nissan, but I'm actually waiting for the new Sport Trac to come out.

ROBERTS: You would buy a Ford again?

Mr. NESBITT: Oh yeah, definitely.

ROBERTS: Do you think they'll be able to sell enough cars to get out of the hole they're in?

Mr. NESBITT: I don't know. I mean if they keep making them like the ones I'm seeing that they're coming out with, I think so. I just think that they're trying to be more energy efficient as far as what they're doing. And they're becoming a more people friendly, you know, you go into the dealerships, they're more helpful with you, explaining what's going on instead of trying to make sale. So that's a good thing about it.

ROBERTS: We've heard a couple of people say their design is boring. What do you think of that?

Mr. NESBITT: I don't think so. Ford has been around forever. I mean, most of my family drives Fords, so I don't think they're boring.

ROBERTS: Hey, I'm Rebecca Roberts from NPR.

HEATHER: Oh, okay.

ROBERTS: Nice to meet you. Can you tell me your name and where you're from?

HEATHER: Heather, I live in Ashburn.

ROBERTS: And what brought you to the auto show today?

HEATHER: Just to check out all the neat cars. My son loves cars. So he just likes getting in all of them and pretending to drive.

ROBERTS: Are you a Ford driver?

HEATHER: We do have a Ford. Yeah, we have an Explorer.

ROBERTS: Do you like it?

HEATHER: I love it. Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Would you buy another one?

HEATHER: I would, yes, absolutely. My husband actually wants a truck so we've been looking at all the trucks and I like - love this one. Yeah, we would definitely go with another Ford again.

ROBERTS: What is this truck?

HEATHER: F450. It's the ranch series. I just love the interior. It looks like a saddle. It's very comfortable and very big.

Mr. ZACH THOMAS(ph): My name is Zach Thomas and I'm from northern Virginia.

ROBERTS: Do you drive a Ford?

Mr. THOMAS: I do.

ROBERTS: What do you drive?

Mr. THOMAS: I drive a Ford Escape.

ROBERTS: Do you like it?

Mr. THOMAS: I love it. It's a great little truck. It's not too big, not too gas guzzling, and I have no problems with it so far.

ROBERTS: Do you have the hybrid or the conventional?

Mr. THOMAS: I have the conventional. I can't afford the hybrid. So that's one of the problems. I would absolutely buy one if I could afford it.

ROBERTS: What did you think when you heard the news about Ford's big losses this week?

Mr. THOMAS: Well, you know, I feel bad for them because I'm they're an American institution and they make good cars, or at least they make good trucks. And one of the problems is they own too many companies. I mean they bought Jaguar, they bought all these British companies. They bought Land Rover. They bought so many companies and they were trying to keep them all afloat. And they figured that that was the way to diversify, but really they just - if you keep building good cars and people buy them, that's how you make money.

Mr. TOM NESSENGER(ph): Tom Nessenger, Silver Springs.

ROBERTS: Are you a Ford driver?

Mr. NESSENGER: Sometimes. I own an older Ford. It's a 1955 Thunderbird.

ROBERTS: Older?

Mr. NESSENGER: Well, older than I am.

ROBERTS: Do you like it?

Mr. NESSENGER: I will when I get it running.

ROBERTS: When you heard about Ford's big losses this week, what did that make you think about?

Mr. NESSENGER: It made me think they probably overextended themselves. I know a lot of it's probably attributable to the fact they seemed to be buying out a lot of their employees. So that is probably a one time thing for a lot of it. I used to represent a lot of car dealers, so I know a little bit about the car business. But I don't know, it just seems like the American car industry generally has to sort of reverse track. You know, in the '70s the Japanese lapped them because they were doing the fuel efficient cars when gasoline started getting expensive. Then everybody went to SUVs and Ford was building these behemoths, you know, the Explorer, the Excursion, the whatever. And now everybody's got to get back to fuel economy now. So you see the fuel cells here and they're all trying to do that. But I think that's going to be the wave of the future, at least for the foreseeable future.

ROBERTS: Car shoppers at the 2007 Washington auto show.

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