Ford is in by far the best shape of the Detroit Three right now. Their sales are up compared to GM and Toyota, and their 2009 Ford Focus and 2009 Ford Escape were two of the top-selling cars bought using Cash-for-Clunkers credits.
TheCarConnection.com was lucky enough to attend a Ford social event in New York City last night, part of a 100-city "Taurus Tour" to dealerships, small-town ball games, and other events to let the public see, touch, and ride in the redesigned 2010 Ford Taurus.
We got a chance to chat with Mark Fields, Ford's executive vice president and president of the Americas, in an open-air bar high above the Hudson River, along with our pals Eric Evarts of Consumer Reports and Dave Pinter of PSFK.
What follows is condensed from a much lengthier discussion.
Your upcoming 2011 Ford Fiesta subcompact is roughly the size of the first Ford Escort, from the 1980s. Are you looking at selling even smaller cars in the US? Maybe the new European Ford Ka, which is built on the same platform as the Fiat 500 to be sold here in 2011?
Mark Fields: No, right now the Fiesta is as small as we'll go for the US.
We listen to what customers tell us they want, and we're hearing that they want better gas mileage. That doesn't necessarily mean they want smaller cars; Americans tend to be pretty big people, you know.
How are you planning to use diesel engines? Will you put them in US passenger cars, just as you do in Europe?
MF: You'll see diesels used in our truck line, especially the larger models. Right now you can get a diesel engine in the Ford F-250 pickup and up. We had one all planned and engineered for the F-150, but that's on ice right now.
When gas went to $4 a gallon last year, diesel was a buck more expensive even than gasoline. It's just a really tough sell. You won't see them in passenger vehicles in the US, or at least ours, any time soon.
Speaking of trucks, the 2010 Ford Ranger compact pickup truck has got to be one of your very oldest vehicles. Are you planning to replace it?
MF: [frowns] That's a tough question. Again, talking to our customers, we found that a lot of people who own compact pickups didn't buy them because they needed a truck. They bought them because they wanted a really inexpensive vehicle to commute in, or just to drive.
So we're not sure about that one right now. It's a challenge.
OK, well, what about something smaller than today's F-150, which is a really big, tall, intimidating vehicle? What about the rumors of a slightly smaller "almost-full-size" pickup, which I think I heard called the F-100?
MF: That's a very interesting question. [grins broadly] Good question, for sure. No comment. [grins]
Back to cars, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has said that any manufacturer has to build at least 1 million cars a year, globally, on each platform it makes if it wants to stay in business. Do you agree?
MF: Well, that depends a little bit on the type of platform and the type of car. For smaller cars, like our Fiesta, I agree. And if you look at all the different models we have, globally, on the new Fiesta, we'll be at about 2 million a year. So sure, he's right there.
Now for other types of vehicles, maybe larger ones, we won't get to that number. If you look at the 2010 Ford Taurus sedan--which is a shared platform with the Ford Flex crossover, the Lincoln MKS sedan, and the new 2010 Lincoln MKT crossover--even totaling them all up, we won't get near a million units a year.
But that's OK. It's a different size, with different price points, and we're OK with that. But for small cars, which cost a lot to do well and sell for less, yeah, he's right.
[pause] Thanks for coming, good to see you again. Now, I have go tweet.
Which, we can confirm, Fields did. Ford, in fact, has been aggressively using social media to promote word-of-mouth discussion. You can read his tweets from yesterday evening's event on Twitter at @Ford.
Perhaps their biggest social media effort so far involves their eagerly awaited 2011 Ford Fiesta subcompact hatchback. It will hit the market next year, 12 months after a lengthy "Fiesta Movement" promotion seeded 100 European-spec Fiesta to early adopters.
Picked to represent the Fiesta's target buyers, those "movement agents" avidly tweeted, Facebooked, and pretty much marketed the cars to anyone who would listen. While viewed skeptically by some, they were upfront about the good--and the bad--of their cars.