Detroit, Mich. — And the auto bailout winner is . . . the company that didn’t take the bailout?
Conspicuously absent from the TARP trough this morning was Ford Motor Company, which begged off the $13.4 billion in taxpayer loans.
While CEO Alan Mulally publicly praised the bailout for his competitors, the company is likely relishing the PR bounce of not being a beggar. Should the Blue Oval emerge from these hard times intact (and Ford quietly did ask for a $9 billion line of credit from the feds just in case), the public will no doubt appreciate that. Ford’s show of independence could burnish the image of a company that — thanks to its hard-charging founder Henry Ford — has been an icon of American entrepreneurship.
The Ford anti-bailout is the latest in a series of shrewd moves the beleaguered company had made since bringing on Mulally, an ex-Boeing chieftain, including:
– Mortgaging all the company’s assets last year, shoring up its cash position and keeping it solvent into late next year — even as GM and Chrysler were set to run out of cash this month.
– Streamlining Ford’s brands, concentrating on its core Ford and Lincoln brands. Next on the chopping block: Mercury and Volvo?
– Introducing the Ford Fusion Hybrid — which is not just a show hybrid to balance those CAFE numbers, but a hybrid that kicks Toyota’s patootie. The Fusion (38 mpg city) gets a whopping 5 mpg more than its competitor, the popular Toyota Camry (33 mpg). If Detroit is going to get its mojo back, it will have to make cars that are not just as good as their Japanese nemeses — but better. The Fusion Hybrid fits that bill.
– Developing the Ford Fiesta. The green Fusion will get the headlines, but the new Fiesta — a sexy econobox with Euro-styling — could be a small, fuel-efficient car that actually makes the company money. That’s because it will be built in Mexico, avoiding the UAW wage premium even before the new labor contract goes into effect in 2011.
Will GM and Chrysler ultimately suffer from their decision to take handouts that polls indicate the public opposes? Americans don’t like welfare. Ford seems to understand that.