After a couple of very difficult years in the auto industry, the “dark clouds” are lifting, and, says Ford executive chairman Bill Ford, technology and innovation will lead the way.

(WWJ Photo)

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“We’re becoming relevant again to young people in terms of what they think is cool,” said Ford. “I love that, I love that we’re redefining what it means to have a cool vehicle.”

That, Ford says, includes technology innovation, like Ford’s Sync system that connects cellular phones and mp3 players to vehicles.

Ford was the guest of honor at WWJ’s Dream Cruise Business Breakfast, held on the station’s 90th anniversary. This has been a good year for Ford Motor Company, which has made more than $5 billion in the first half of the year.

“The two biggest reasons people used to reject Ford were perceived quality and fuel economy. Well, we’ve taken those away.”

Ford says his company views electric vehicles as the wave of the future and won’t outsource production of electric vehicle powertrains.

“Electric vehicles are here to stay, and that needs to be a core competency of the company. We need to have as much knowledge in-house as we can.”

Because, says Ford, technology is changing the industry.

“It’s a new day. When you think about it, five years ago, not much had changed in the way Ford made and sold vehicles in 100 years. We still had internal combustion engines, we still sold through dealerships. Today we have biofuels, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, pure electrics … and we are dealing with Microsoft and Intel and eBay. It’s very exciting.”

That, Ford says, is starting to make the auto industry an interesting career choice for young people.

John McElroy, Bill Ford, Jeff Gilbert

“(Ford is) now being seen as kind of a cool and hot place to work, and I love that… We’re starting to hire more of the best and the brightest from U of M, MSU, U of D, Wayne State and outstate,” he said.

And that’s critical to keeping young people in Michigan, Ford said. “You go to Chicago and it’s all young people who grew up in Michigan,” he complained.

Even in the darkest days of the auto recession, Ford said, the one thing the company could not cut was spending on innovation and product development.

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“We’re still in a lousy period by historic standards,” Ford said. “Unit sales are not good. But with our liquidity and the fact that we’ve right-sized the company, we’re making a lot of money in a pretty lousy environment.”

Ford said his company could continue to earn money, even if the lower sales enviornment continues. Many analysts are starting to predict a recovery that takes longer than originally expected.

Ford also keeping an eye on his competition, as General Motors filed the paperwork this week for its initial public offering of stock.

“Our company and GM are ulitmately going to succeed or fail based upon performance,” said Ford, who told reporters after the breakfast that it’s likely that some his company could lose some investors to General Motors.

But, Ford said there are more important things to worry about than day to day fluctuations of stock price.

“The question is, ‘Is our business moving in the right direction, generating earnings and cash flow?’ If we do that over a period of time, we’ll be in great shape.”

Ford, who’s father owns the Detroit Lions said Detroit may have to stand in line behind cities that have brand new stadiums, but he felt Ford Field would host another Super Bowl. The venue hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006.

“The buzz after the Super Bowl was that this was the best Super Bowl we’ve ever had,” said Ford. “People were blown away by our venues. People think about Detroit but not about our institutions and our venues, like the DIA and the Henry Ford. Normally the (NFL) commissioner’s ball is held in a hotel ballroom. We held it on the floor of the museum.”

Ford also took time to praise the new Mustang Boss 302, saying it beats BMW’s M3 in a road course.

And he said it’s going to be easy to get people excited about electric cars.

“With EcoBoost, we can give you a six-cylinder Mustang that gets great fuel economy and the horsepower is fantastic,” Ford said. “We’re making four-cylinder cars that are a blast to drive. In electric vehicles it’s even better. You have instant torque. You touch the accelerator and your head snaps back.”

Overall, Ford said, the American auto industry is “bringing back the day when people fell in love with cars… the Woodward Dream Cruise is all about the period when people used to fall in love with cars.”

And now it’s back. After all, Ford said, “If the joy of driving isn’t in these vehicles, we might as well hang it up.” And if the Woodward Dream Cruise “is only about nostalgia, we might as well hang it up.”


(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved. WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert contributed to this report.

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