Ford faces risks in bid for bigger market share 2009-06-03 00:43:19   Print

    By Yang Lei, Han Wanning

    DETROIT, June 2 (Xinhua) -- Ford Motor Company could grab a larger share of the U.S. market now that the other two top automakers General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. have sought bankruptcy protection. But there are risks.

    Ford's top-to-bottom transformation that started years before the severe crisis hit the world's auto industry in 2008 enabled it to hold its own.

    The nearly 106-year-old auto company mortgaged all its assets, including the famous blue oval brand, for billions of dollars in loans by the end of 2006. Ford chief executive Alan Mulally said the money would give Ford "a cushion to protect against a recession or other unexpected events."

    With the 23.6 billion dollars in loans it received from the country's biggest banks, Ford started to downsize, shedding jobs and focusing on small cars rather than trucks and SUVs on which GM and Chrysler depended. Ford reduced its stake in Mazda of Japan and Aston Martin of England. It also sold its former UK subsidiaries Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors of India in March 2008.

    Ford's change toward fuel-efficient passenger cars like new Taurus a midsize sedan, emphasis on quality control and a push for environment-friendly strategy positioned the company in a different path.

    So there is no wonder while GM and Chrysler fell into bankruptcy despite billions of dollars of government aid, Ford has not used any taxpayers' money to survive the current crisis. Actually, it has played up its status as the only one of the Big Three in Detroit to make it, so far, on its own and has won more support from American customers.

    But rivals' bankruptcy may not be as beneficial to Ford as it seems and the company still faces the risk of losing it all. Firstly, Ford will be in a tougher situation to seek additional concessions from the United Auto Workers to match the compromise the union made with GM and Chrysler.

    And it will be more difficult for Ford to further cut dealerships. Currently, Ford has 3,700 dealers, 16 percent fewer than at the start of 2006. The U.S. market's top player Toyota of Japan already has a dealership network one-third of Ford.

    But the biggest risk to Ford is its debt. As of March, Ford had21.3 billion dollars in cash. But it now owes 25.8 billion dollars while GM and Chrysler cleaned their balance sheets through bankruptcy.

    With almost everything leveraged, Ford is betting on the hope that auto sales will pick up later this year or next year. Mulally acknowledged that he did not foresee that annual auto sales in the United States would drop to 13.2 million vehicles last year, from 16 million in 2006, and possibly as low as 10 million this year. The company lost 14.6 billion dollars last year.

    "Ford took a huge bet on the economy that would recover in a V shape. But if it does not happen, the company will be in big trouble," Bob Dewar, author of the book "A Savage Factory -- An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry's Self-Destruction," said. He had worked in Ford in the 1970s.

Editor: Yan
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