DETROIT - Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields discussed the growth of the global automotive industry and how Ford is responding to changing customer demographics when he delivered the keynote address at the 2014 Automotive News World Congress the evening of Jan. 14 at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center in Detroit.
“With at least 25 significant global production and concept reveals here at the North American International Auto Show, the momentum is palpable,” said Fields. “The auto industry is on a roll!”
Fields said global auto industry volumes are expected to grow to between 85 and 90 million this year compared with 74 million in 2010.
“Two-thirds of this growth will be driven by emerging markets – namely China and India,” he said. “China will be an especially interesting market to watch in the coming years as government reforms ease the country’s one-child policy and look to curb pollution.”
Fields said the auto industry also is seeing expansion in product segments, such as utilities, small cars and luxury vehicles.
“The case for growth and excitement in the business is clear,” he said. “The question that remains is: Are we in this room ready to respond? If we answer ‘yes,’ we need to commit to understanding our customers in a whole new way.”
Fields said it is important that automakers ensure new vehicles fit the lifestyles, preferences and definitions of value in emerging markets as well as those of Millennials.
“At Ford, we are tracking each of these developments, and we are taking them very seriously and acting on them,” he said. “We are part of an industry that is even more exciting and has even more promise than tech and telecom.”
That promise starts with the One Ford plan, said Fields.
“Our plan is all about being firmly focused on serving customers around the world with a full family of vehicles – small, medium and large; cars, utilities and trucks – each with the best quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value, delivering profitable growth,” he said.
The next major step in the One Ford plan and the company’s continuing growth happens this year with the launch of 23 new or significantly refreshed global vehicles – 16 in North America.
“To support this surge in new products, we are laying the foundation for profitable growth for years to come with the most aggressive manufacturing expansion the company has undergone in 50 years,” he said. “That includes the hiring of 11,000 employees in the U.S. and Asia this year.”
Fields discussed the importance of providing B-size cars to customers around the world as the middle class continues to grow.
“We have achieved huge success in B-cars with our Fiesta, Figo and Ka,” he said. “Enthusiasm is growing for the new Fiesta with the award-winning 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine, which went on sale in December. And we received rave reviews when we recently introduced the Ka in Brazil.”
Fields pointed out that Ford is now challenging Toyota as the world’s utility leader through success with the all-new EcoSport in South America, Asia and now Europe, record sales for Escape and Kuga and continued global growth for the iconic Explorer.
“We already are the largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles in those segments in which we compete, and we are eyeing even more growth in the years ahead thanks to great new products like the new Transit,” he said.
Fields also touched on the importance of responding to changing customer demographics.
“To meet the expectations of Millennials and other like-minded customers, we are making our vehicles smarter than ever before,” he said. “Our research into automated vehicles is exploring new levels of connectivity, linking vehicles to communicate with infrastructure and each other to help customers be better drivers.”
The company will also focus on connecting better with women in the coming year.
“One example is our partnership with Rent the Runway, the online site that allows members to rent couture fashion and accessories,” he said. “It is helping us introduce our popular Fusion to 5 million women and potential customers.”
Fields ended his speech by talking about the excitement surrounding the auto industry right now.
“Our industry is on the upswing. Our priorities are straight. Momentum is on our side,” he said.