WSJ Breakfast in New York: Freewheeling Ford Hits the Highway

Wall Street Journal's ViewPoints Breakfast Series


William Clay Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, took part in the Wall Street Journal's ViewPoints breakfast series. Alone of the big three carmakers, Ford did not have to be bailed out by the government and as a result the company has reaped an unexpected benefit.

When the United States government bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, Ford decided to go it alone even though the government appeared to have handed its competitors an advantage. What happened, however, was that Ford received sackfuls of letters from the public congratulating them on their stand. This in turn translated into a growth in sales. 

Initially the company thought people would buy from their competitors as it was their tax dollars that were supporting them. Ford adds that the company supported the bail-out of GM because if it had gone bankrupt it would have had a disastrous effect on the supply base that would have hurt everybody. Ford wouldn't commit himself on whether government was getting too involved in business or not, but doesn't think it will last. "As a global company you learn to operate in almost every possible environment," he says, from the most anarchic to the most highly regulated. 

He says that, compared to other countries, the United States has undervalued industry. "Until you value something, you're not going to save it. In almost every other country where Ford operates, the government will do everything it can to protect its industrial base. If anything good has come out of this country over the last couple of years it's that there's a dawning realization that industry matters and that a country that doesn't make things is not going to have a strong economy."

Ford says they have taken big steps towards making a truly global car. Regionalization meant that the different companies had grown up with their own ideas and with different customer desires. "We were in the worst of all worlds. We were a global company that had no economy of scale. Over the past three years we've finally globalized our product development. The same car will now be available in Europe, Asia and everywhere else. When you do that, your quality gets better and your costs come down."