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Is Ford Ready to Drive Out of South America?

J.P. Morgan reports Ford execs considering alternatives to stanch “unacceptable losses.”

by on Nov.22, 2017

Ford CEO Jim Hackett continues examine the company's operations, including a potential exit from all or part of South America.

Stung by heavy, ongoing losses that seem to have no end in sight, Ford Motor Co. reportedly is looking at options that could include “selective exits” from emerging markets, notably South America.

Such a move would echo the strategy taken by General Motors since Mary Barra came aboard as CEO nearly four years ago, the automaker pulling out of markets including Russia and India. Since assuming the chief executive post at Ford in May, Jim Hackett has promised to rethink the automaker’s entire strategy, leaving open the prospect of some radical moves.

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Among the options, Ford leadership is considering, “an out-of-the-box transformational plan to stanch what it deems as unacceptable losses in South America which we expect could be announced over the short-term. Ford is evaluating strategies in relation to doing business in emerging markets overall,” J.P. Morgan analyst Ryan Brinkman wrote in a note to investors. “It could also entail selective exits from certain markets.”

Ford has faced a rollercoaster ride in South America, even in some key markets, like Brazil and Argentina, where it was once among the top brands. It hasn’t been in the black in the market since posting a relatively rare profit for the third quarter of 2013. All told, it has lost $2.6 billion in the region since 2011, running up a $158 million deficit during the most recent quarter and $1.1 billion for all of last year.

For the 2018 model year, Ford's smallest SUV, the EcoSport, gets a facelift just in time for its U.S. debut. The ute will be imported from India.

(Volkswagen bolstering line-up in Brazil. For the story, Click Here.)

It hasn’t helped that South America has faced a variety of political and economic problems in recent years, notably in those two key national markets, as well as Venezuela.

But economic turmoil in emerging markets is not unique to the Latin American region. The economy of Russia has all but collapsed, in part due to sanctions, as well as the plunge in oil prices. General Motors pulled out from the heart of the former USSR two years ago. Ford’s domestic rival has since abandoned a number of other countries, including South Africa and India. And it recently completed the sell-off of its European subsidiary, Opel-Vauxhall.

GM also effectively quit Venezuela when the embattled Socialist government seized its sole assembly plant there earlier this year.

(Click Here for details about the most recent management shake up at Ford.)

For its part, Ford has hung tight in Russia and actually expanded its presence in India, a market that some analysts expect could eventually become second only to China in terms of motor vehicle sales. But that is no guarantee it will continue to hold on in markets that might seem to offer no long-term prospects, according to Brinkman.

For his part, new Ford CEO Hackett announced his intentions of reviewing all aspects of the automaker’s strategy when he was appointed to the post left vacant when Mark Fields was ousted last May. A month ago, Hackett reported on his 100-day review and appeared to make no major breaks from Fields’ business model, but several company insiders have told Ford more significant moves remain in the works.

That said, Ford spokesman Said Deep appeared to dismiss the J.P. Morgan report, providing a statement that said, “South America remains important to our overall business operations and we continue to focus to make it operationally fit.” Deep declined to respond when asked if making that region “operationally fit” could include abandoning some national markets.

(To see more about Ford’s commitment to India, Click Here.)

Ford did show its ability to fix trouble spots, last year finally getting Europe back into the black after more than a decade of deep losses. And the $587 million it has lost in Latin America since the beginning of 2017 is actually an improvement over 2016.

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