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All in the Family: The Ford’s Get Back World’s Oldest Ford

Third car off the line returns home after 109 years.

by on Dec.17, 2012

Henry Ford's great-grandson Ford Chairman Bill Ford with a 1903 Ford Model A.

While the Model T is perhaps the best-known product ever built by the Ford Motor Co. – and voted the “Car of the Century” by a group of automotive media and experts from around the world, it was actually the Model A that put the company in gear.

And a 1903 Model A Rear Entry Tonneau recently returned home after a circuitous, 109-year journey. Purchased at auction last October but only being displayed by the maker, it’s the oldest known surviving Ford vehicle.

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“The timing was perfect to bring this key part of Ford heritage back to the family as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of my great-grandfather’s birth and his vision to improve people’s lives by making cars affordable for the average family,” said Bill Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford and the family firm’s current chairman. “His vision to build cars that are reasonably priced, reliable and efficient still resonates and defines our vision today as well.”

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Ford Outlines Battery Car Plans

Big charge comes in 2012.

by on Oct.20, 2010

Ford will slowly ramp up its battery car efforts, starting with the Focus EV, shown here, and the battery version of the Transit Connect.

Ford Motor Co. plans a serious assault on the electric vehicle market, but the big push won’t come until 2012, the automaker says.

“Some” of the Detroit maker’s first electric vehicles will hit the road in 2011, Sue Cischke, the group vice president overcoming Ford’s sustainability efforts said.  But the maker is taking a “slower entry” than it originally planned.

“We had always said 2011, which we’ll still do, but I think you’ll see more of the concentrated volume in 2012,” said Cischke, during a meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C.

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The maker has indicated it has at least five battery-based vehicles in the pipeline – beyond the basic gas-electric hybrids, such as the Ford Escape Hybrid it now offers.  First to market will be pure battery-electric versions of the Transit Connect van and the new-for-2011 Focus passenger car.

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Boeing Phantom Eye Uses Ford Hydrogen Engines

Unmanned spy drone uses four-cylinder Ranger truck engines.

by on Aug.02, 2010

Is Ford Motor tiptoeing back into aerospace?

The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] has shown a new hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye unmanned airborne plane that can aloft at 65,000 feet for as many as four days.

The first flight is expected at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California in early 2011.

Boeing’s goal is to eventually develop a drone that can stay aloft for ten days. If it does so, it claims that four of the aircraft, based in the continental United States, could provide continuous battle field surveillance, eliminating the need for foreign airbase access and a global supply chain.

While a remarkable weapon in itself, Phantom Eye is also notable for its use of two four-cylinder Ranger truck engines from Ford Motor Company. The CEO of Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally came from Boeing of course, where he was executive vice president. Ford along with General Motors and Chrysler, once key U.S. defense contractors, long ago exited the business, leaving the field to other industrial companies, with many of them now partnered with offshore firms.

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Defense Dollars!

“The hydrogen propulsion system will be the key to Phantom Eye’s success. It is very efficient and offers great fuel economy, and its only byproduct is water, so it’s also a ‘green’ aircraft,” claimed Drew Mallow, Phantom Eye program manager for Boeing.

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Soy Foam Seat Cushions on New Ford Explorer

Following Henry Ford's practice, maker expands soy use.

by on Jun.24, 2010

Ford Mustang Soy-Based Foam Seat

The new 2011 Ford Explorer will use soy foam in seat cushions and seatbacks. The soybean oil-based flexible foam material has a lower environmental impact to produce. It is up to 24% renewable as opposed to traditional non-renewable petroleum-based foam, and it offers up to 67% reduction in volatile organic compounds emissions, according to Lear Corporation, the maker.

Ford Motor Company is expanding its use of bio-based soy foam through nearly its entire North American vehicle lineup as part of an ongoing effort to use more renewable and recyclable materials

Already there are more than 2 million Ford Motor vehicles on the road with bio foam content. Ford says bio foam has helped the company reduce its petroleum oil usage by more than 3 million pounds annually and carbon dioxide emissions by 11 million pounds.

Ford Motor Company was the first automotive manufacturer to express an interest in soy foam for automotive applications and the first to demonstrate that soy-based polyols (alcohols containing multiple hydroxyl groups) could be used at high levels (~40%) to make foams capable of meeting or exceeding automotive requirements.

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Curious!

The 2008 Ford Mustang seats and headliners for the 2010 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner first used the material.

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Johnson Controls Still Pursuing Visteon

Former Ford Motor parts maker rejects JCI proposal. Ford claims neutrality; likely working behind scenes to protect itself.

by on Jun.07, 2010

Johnson loses nothing by buying the parts operations or delaying Visteon's eventual bankruptcy emergence.

Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) has confirmed that it sent Visteon Corporation (OTC: VSTNQ) a letter late last week that said it remains interested in pursuing its rejected proposal to buy some of the bankrupt company’s assets. It gave no further details on how it would enhance the $1.25 billion cash bid for Visteon’s electronic and interior businesses, leaving the climate control operation behind.

The businesses JCI wants generated more than $4 billion in sales during 2009, the worst automotive market in decades. In 2009, Visteon had product sales of $6.42 billion – down $2.7 billion from the prior year. There clearly is upside potential for the eventual owner.

The latest development complicates what is already a long running bankruptcy that was filed under Chapter 11 in May of 2009. Shareholders and bondholders are currently vying to see who will control the plan that will let Visteon emerge from receivership. At stake is ownership of the assets, including the ones that JCI wants to buy – or steal, depending on your point of view.

It also could be a business tactic since Johnson Controls is a direct competitor that stands to benefit by introducing delay or complexity into the Visteon reorganization process.

Visteon, the former Ford Motor Company parts maker, has used bankruptcy to improve its balance sheet, and its first-quarter profit rose to $233 million from $2 million a year earlier. The businesses in question are largely based in China, now the world’s largest auto market.

A Ford spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the JCI Visteon issue.

“JCI is a strong company and one of our long-term suppliers. At the same time, Visteon and Ford have a long business relationship. We have been, and remain, supportive of Visteon as it works through its bankruptcy restructuring process,” the spokesperson said.

“Whatever happens, Ford is going to want to make sure that Visteon remains viable, and at some point will make its views known to the court,” said Joe Phillippi of the AutoTrends consultancy.

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Ford Bans The Mercury Brand

History shows a long decline of what was once a powerhouse.

by on Jun.03, 2010

Mercury cars of the 1949-1951 model years, like those of 1939-40, had distinctive bodies that appealed especially to the customizers of Southern California.

The demise of Mercury was a long time coming. To understand it, you have to know a lot about the car’s history, and how things work inside Ford Motor Company.

First the history: During the 1930s, so-called “medium-priced” brands like Buick and Dodge flourished. However, Ford marketed nothing between the basic Ford and the big and expensive Lincoln. For example, 1934 Ford sedans ranged in price from $535 to $625 but the least expensive ’34 Lincoln sedan cost $3,450—a big gap.

So the company decided to plug the gap. The first step to counter General Motors and Chrysler Corporation in the middle of the market was the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, introduced in the fall of 1935 and priced at $1,320. Buicks for 1936 ranged from $885 to $1,695 for a four-door sedan.

The second step in Ford’s plan was Mercury, introduced in the fall of 1938 as a 1939 model. A four-door Mercury was priced at $957, fitting neatly into the lower-medium priced market, as things were done on those days. About 66,000 were sold the first year. Contrary to popular misinformation, Mercury then was not just a badge-engineered Ford. It had a larger 239-cid, 95-horsepower V8 (versus Ford’s 221 with 85 horsepower), a longer 116-inch wheelbase and a unique, wider body.

Overseas, Mercurys became relatively popular as an upscale car in those European countries without native auto industries, the likes of Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland. Canadian plants assembled right-hand-drive Mercurys for the British Empire market. As an example, the last Ford Motor Company civilian car produced after Pearl Harbor was a Canadian right-hand-drive Mercury built in April 1942 for export to Kenya.

The Lincoln-Mercury Division as a marketing organization was established in 1945, right after the end of World War II. Aping General Motors’ medium-price brands, Mercury was to have its own assembly plants, engineering, purchasing and eventually engines. Benson Ford, Henry II’s younger brother, served as general manager of Lincoln-Mercury until the brands were split into separate divisions in 1955 in an aborted attempt to copy GM further.

Mercurys of the 1949-1951 model years, like those of 1939-40, had distinctive bodies that appealed especially to the customizers of Southern California. Think James Dean. Accordingly, original unaltered versions have long been hard to find, and now will be rarer yet.

Winged no more, as Ford management claims the Mercury brand wont fly, based at least in part on their stewardship.

Ford Motor Company’s mid-Fifties multi-brand scheme, hatched by former GM execs lured to Ford after the war by Ernie Breech, envisioned a Continental Division as a competitor to Cadillac, a Lincoln Division to face off against Buick, the new Edsel Division to counter Oldsmobile and Mercury Division versus Pontiac.

Ford Division of course would continue to compete with Chevrolet in those good old days when the highest selling import was MG. As we all know, the grand plan collapsed when the Edsel became an instant flop at its introduction in 1957.    (more…)

Who’ll Follow Mercury Onto the Automotive Rust Heap?

There are plenty of other troubled brands.

by on Jun.03, 2010

If the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander doesn't turn things around for the troubled brand its fate, at least in the U.S., will be decidedly uncertain.

Remember Packard?  Or Plymouth?  How about Eagle or Oldsmobile?

A search of the automotive morgue yields the name of more than 800 different brand names that have vanished from the U.S. market alone over the last century.  Some, like Packard and Olds, were immensely popular in their day, the latter General Motors division generating sales of more than a million as recently as the early-1980s.  Others, like Chrysler’s Eagle, were ill-conceived ventures that were given mercifully little time before being pulled from the market.

As Ford’s announcement that it will finally pull 71-year-old Mercury off life support underscores, the ongoing automotive sales crisis has led to the demise of more automotive brands than at any time since the Great Depression.  The question, analysts ask, is whether still more nameplates could vanish in the coming years?

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Is there room for a Suzuki, Mitsubishi or Saab, as well as Ram and Fiat?

(Click Here for more on Mercury’s demise. More on vanishing brands on the next page.)

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Dead Brand Walking: Ford Kills Mercury

Lincoln receives new products instead, including a Focus clone.

by on Jun.02, 2010

Does the new strategy send Lincoln down the same dead end road?

Does the new direction send Lincoln down the same dead end road?

Ford Motor Company made the demise of Mercury official today by confirming that the production of Mercury vehicles will end in the fourth quarter of this year. (See Rest in Peace, Mercury)

Of Ford Motor Company’s 16% market share in the U.S., Mercury accounts for 0.8 percentage points or roughly 100,000 units, a level that has been flat or declining for the past several years.

With the impending cancellation of the Mercury Mountaineer sport utility this year and Grand Marquis sedan next year, the Mercury lineup would have been down to just four derivative products –the Mariner compact SUV and the Milan midsize sedan, along with hybrid versions of both. This is not enough to sustain dealers.

The decision to withhold from Mercury a version of the Ford Focus in 2000 started a product diet – critics say starvation plan – that resulted in Mercury’s paltry lineup today. As a result, Mercury’s customers, pricing and margins are almost identical to those of the Ford brand, but Mercury’s incremental sales have been declining, which led to the death sentence.

Now, Lincoln will get a version of the Focus – named the Irony or maybe Versailles? – in an attempt to increase transaction prices to higher levels than they would be if the compact car were a Mercury, given its  tarnished image. While this might work in the short term, critics argue that it ultimately sends Lincoln down the same dead end road that Mercury is now parked on.

Ford claims that existing Mercury owners will receive continued access to parts and service support at Ford and Lincoln dealers. Current Mercury vehicle warranties and Extended Service Plans will also be honored. There will of course be special offers available on new Mercury vehicles through the summer as Ford dumps the inventory.

“Profitably growing Lincoln in North America is an important part of our One Ford plan,” said Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO. “Our Ford brand is gaining momentum and winning customers around the world.

The majority of current Mercury sales are to fleet buyers and customers purchasing through employee, retiree and friends and family discounts. Ford is gambling they can largely can be satisfied by Ford brand vehicles.

Rest in Peace, Mercury

It’s all over but the funeral after years of criminal neglect.

by on May.28, 2010

World class fuel economy is available from the Milan hybrid, at least for the moment.

The herd mentality of the media is in full view during this week’s feeding frenzy and rampant speculation over the impending demise of the Mercury brand. Such a move, if it is presented to and approved by Ford Motor Company’s board of directors at its next meeting, will cost a lot of money to shut dealers and see Ford lose the sales of roughly 100,000 annually provided by the Mercury brand.

This, of course, is not the first occasion when Mercury had to fight for its survival.

In recent times, the decision not to provide Mercury with a version of the Ford Focus in 2000 started a product diet – critics say starvation plan – that has resulted in Mercury’s paltry product lineup today. With the impending cancellation of the Mountaineer sport utility this year and Grand Marquis sedan next year, the Mercury lineup would be down to just four derivative products –the Mariner compact SUV and the Milan midsize sedan, along with hybrid versions of both.

It’s a tribute to Mercury dealers that without any support from the parent company that they are able to sell as many cars as they currently do. As an example of the criminal neglect that Ford executives imposed on Mercury, consider that the Grand Marquis website hasn’t been updated since the 2008 model appeared.

Alan Mulally, Ford’s CEO, clearly signaled the end this morning while speaking to analysts when he said that he had nothing new to add on speculation that Ford is planning to shut down its Mercury brand after 71 years. Mulally said that Ford continues to look closely at its portfolio of brands and consider strategic options that would be good for business. So my take on this is it’s all over but the funeral.

Look for an upcoming detailed history and analysis of the tribulations and trials of Mercury since its extremely successful introduction as a 1939 model – 80,000 sales the first year in what was a much smaller, depression market then – from our resident expert, Mike Davis, aka Mercuryphile Mike.

No Plan to Restore Ford Dividend

Recovery still too early, says Mulally.

by on May.13, 2010

Still "too early" to declare victory, says Bill Ford, right, who also hopes to see CEO Alan Mulally, left, stay on past 65.

Warning that it is still “too early” to declare a turnaround, Ford Chairman Bill Ford told shareholders the automaker is not yet ready to restore its dividend.

Nonetheless, Ford CEO Alan Mulally declared that the automaker will be “solidly profitable” this year, and that its recovery is occurring faster than anticipated, during the company’s annual shareholders meeting, in Wilmington, Delaware, today.

“It is very early days in our recovery,” declared William Clay Ford, Jr., explaining why the maker is not ready to restore its once-hefty payout to shareholders.  But he added that a dividend “will be a topic for discussion…if we continue our progress.”

During their presentation to investors, the two executives painted a picture that could best be described as cautious optimism.  While Ford is “clearly on a path now of profitably growing the business,” according to CEO Mulally, Chairman Ford stressed that, “We still have a lot of debt.”

Ford has been struggling to find ways to pay down that debt, including recent moves to convert some of it to equity.

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But the maker has made strong progress on the balance sheet, reporting unexpectedly strong $2.1 billion first-quarter earnings, on top of the $2.7 billion profit from 2009.

On the sales side, the maker has gained 2.2 points of market share in 2010, with U.S. sales rising 32.3%, or nearly double the pace of the overall market.

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