MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. If you're struggling to find a silver lining in the car sales numbers, you could say okay, they were down 37 percent in March over last year, at least that's better that the February when sales hit a 27 year low. In year to date sales the numbers are lousy all around for the Detroit three: GM down 49 percent over last year, Chrysler down 45 percent, Ford down 43 percent. Today I talked about this shrunken industry with the executive chairman of Ford, William Clay Ford Jr.
Mr. WILLIAM CLAY FORD JR. (Executive Chairman, Ford): Well, you know, it's -it's not great. I mean, the good news for Ford is that our market share has been going up and up each month and we think March in terms of market share was one of the best months in several years. But I think what we really need, Melissa, is a program to stimulate sales for the entire industry. There are discussions going on in Congress now. There's a bill that Representative Sutton from Ohio has put forward to do just that and it's something that we are very enthusiastic about.
BLOCK: And you're talking about the cash for clunkers idea: trade in your old, may be gas-guzzler, get a more fuel-efficient car?
Mr. FORD JR: Exactly. You know, what I think is really cool about that program is when it clearly stimulates the economy, and it gets the consumer into the showroom, gets them buying again. But importantly — and this is what I particularly like about it — it really helps the environment in two respects: One is if you take an older less fuel-efficient vehicle off the road in favor of a, you know, a vehicle which often doubles in fuel economy from the old vehicle traded in, obviously, that's good news in terms of fuel consumption.
And the other is CO2. The older cars tend to be much more polluting. And if you get them off the road and get a newer car with the newest technology, you're helping C02 emissions, too.
So, it's working in Germany right now, it's working in France now. Many other countries are either about to introduce a similar program or looking hard at it. So, we know it works.
BLOCK: I want to talk to you about your rivals, GM and Chrysler. If one or both of them goes into bankruptcy, and we're hearing more and more talk about that, what's the impact on Ford?
Mr. FORD JR: Well, you know, there's - it's the great unknown in terms of what the impact is on us because there are so many ways it could happen. There are so many ways, you know, and I'm certainly not bankruptcy expert but…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FORD JR: …given what all the discussions that's going on in our industry over the last few months, I've taken a crash course. It could get very messy. Therefore, no matter what happens to any of our competitors, the fact that we have a new UAW agreement, we have a new health care agreement, we've taken steps to restructure our debt, and we've invested very heavily in green technology — I think all those things are exactly the kind of things that the country would like to see us do.
BLOCK: But if bankruptcy would threaten suppliers, presumably that affects all three of you regardless of whether - which of you might be in bankruptcy at the time.
Mr. FORD JR: Well, clearly if the supply base is endangered, that does have a big effect on the whole industry, not just on Ford, GM and Chrysler but frankly on Toyota, Honda and everybody else who produces in the U.S. And I think the administration is clearly well aware of that and has signaled to the industry that they understand that that is one of the key elements, that they want to protect against, which is having a supply base collapse.
BLOCK: Up until now, Ford has not had to ask the government for bailout money, unlike GM and Chrysler. We did hear independent auto analyst Maryann Keller on the program earlier this week say, that your company Ford remains in a precarious financial position and that if demand for vehicles doesn't improve, you may well need to go to the government asking for that credit line. Doesn't that put you in a tough spot down the road if car sales don't pick up?
Mr. FORD JR: Well Melissa, we actually think we have sufficient liquidity and all the steps that I have just outlined with our - you know, all our restructuring steps - each time we've taken one of those it takes us further down the road towards balance sheet and fiscal health. So, we don't see any need to think about going for additional liquidity. I mean, obviously at some point, you know, if global auto sales don't pick up, you know - not just for Ford but for frankly every other automaker out there — it's not going to be a good thing.
But we look at this as, you know, not a great '09, as we go through '09. And, you know, and if there's - just a modest pick up in 2010, we feel we're well positioned.
BLOCK: If sales stay about where they are through end of this year in to next year, you do not need government money?
Mr. FORD JR: We feel like, you know, what we feel like, we have taken all the steps that we need to to secure our liquidity. You know, we're not projecting a huge boost in auto sales.
BLOCK: You do hear some people saying in the context of these bankruptcy talks, well Detroit would be stronger with two car companies, not three. Do they have a point?
Mr. FORD JR: Well, you know, as long as Ford's one of them, I guess I don't care if there are two, three, or five.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: That's self-interest, right?
Mr. FORD JR: But, you know that's really a hard call because, you know, it's interesting I've been doing this for a long time and I can remember back in the early '80s when there were a lot of pundits who were saying that within five years there will be four global car companies. And people have been talking about the consolidation of this industry for probably 30 years. But in fact what's happened is there are more car companies because you've had the Koreans come in, the Chinese come in. And so, you know, I have no way of knowing how many car companies — American or foreign — there are going to be but what I do know is that Ford's going to be one of the key players.
BLOCK: We've been talking with William Clay Ford Junior. He is executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company. Mr. Ford, thanks very much.
Mr. FORD JR: Thank you so much, it was great talking to you.