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Embracing Innovation

Ford Motor Co. accelerates its global strategy and produces new, industry-leading designs

Pages 14-15

By James Amend

Could 2015 be the year of Ford Motor Company? Mark Fields, who took over as CEO of the Dearborn automaker in July, would like to think so.

“We plan to build on our success by accelerating the pace of progress throughout our business,” Fields said. “In many ways, we are just starting to see the full benefits and strength of ‘One Ford,’ and we intend to maximize these opportunities going forward.”

Launched by his predecessor, Alan Mulally, the One Ford plan targets a broad customer base in every Ford market around the world with a range of vehicle sizes from small to large and a full portfolio of vehicle types from cars and crossovers, to SUVs and pickup trucks. The plan is underpinned by a pursuit for industry-leading quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value at every turn.

Given the global ambitions Ford is facing in 2015, Fields and his team must execute the One Ford plan with razor-sharp precision. The automaker will launch 16 new vehicles around the world in 2015 and must maintain a marketing push behind 23 others rolled out in 2014. Each vehicle in the unprecedented product push is expected to contribute to higher revenue, improved operating margins and a company pre-tax profit of between $8.5 and $9.5 billion in 2015.

“At the same time, we are committed to building on our product strength today with even more new products and innovations that will deliver growth for our stakeholders and define our company going forward,” Fields said.

Key product launches are already underway in South America and Europe, and Ford has begun a billion-dollar plan to introduce the Lincoln brand to China’s booming luxury market.

“It is critical for Lincoln to succeed in China,” said Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst with IHS Automotive.

The Lincoln MKC and MKZ debuted overseas in 2014, followed by the MKX, Navigator and an all-new luxury fullsize sedan scheduled to debut in China by 2016. The success of those products, Brinley said, will likely determine future investment in the country.

In its home market, Ford recently rolled out the redesigned F-150 pickup truck, arguably the most important new vehicle from the automaker since the Taurus sedan 30 years ago. But unlike the Taurus, there’s an element of risk to the F-150 launch because its extensive use of aluminum brings unique assembly challenges. Consumers also are used to pickups constructed with old-fashioned steel.

“It is the critical vehicle for Ford,” Brinley said. “It is highly important for sales volumes and highly profitable. But the company understands that, and they’ve been building trucks for a long time.”

Fields acknowledges the calculated risk involved and also highlighted how Ford’s past work with aluminum on the Jaguar helped inform that decision.

“It gave us an advantage. Many of our team who worked on Jaguar’s aluminum program are still with the company and contributed to F-150 development,” Fields said.

Ford is also bringing a new Mustang sports car to the market in 2015. Already trickling onto dealer lots in the United States, the Mustang will be sold overseas for the first time. Other firsts include an independent rear suspension for new levels of ride and handling refinement, and a new fuel-efficient four-cylinder turbocharged engine that punches far beyond its weight.

A supporting cast bolstering those headliners includes the all-new Lincoln MKC small crossover and recently refreshed models of the Lincoln Navigator full-size SUV, the Ford Edge midsize crossover and the Ford Expedition fullsize SUV. The popular Ford Focus small car will receive some styling tweaks, and an all-new Transit van bows in the commercial sector.

The busy schedule has Fields feeling bullish about Ford in 2015. “It is a growth industry, and we are a growth business in that industry,” he said.

James M. Amend is associate editor at WardsAuto.com