LOS ANGELES – Europe’s car market will stay “depressed” for the next few years, but prospects are good for expansion in the United States and Asia-Pacific, Ford’s new chief operating officer said Wednesday.
In comments also echoed by Toyota’s top US boss, Mark Fields said the US auto company will double its market participation in some segments in China in the next three years.
The European market is at its weakest since 1994, Fields – who takes up his new global executive role at the company this week – told reporters at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
“The industry is very, very tough right now. Our view going forward for our business is that the industry will stay depressed, or low trend levels, for a number of years,” he said.
To counter that Ford has launched a “transformation” plan including notably manufacturing cost savings in Belgium and Britain, while focusing more commercial and small utility vehicles.
“I’m very optimistic that in working our transformation plan, we will get the business back to sustainability, and our objective is by mid-decade to get the business in Europe back to profitability.”
Longer-term, Ford hopes to get operating margins in Europe of between 6-8 percent, he added.
In North America, Fields was cautiously optimistic, as the US economy recovers from the global depression.
“Do I think we’re going to go back to the days of 18 million units any time soon? No. But when you look at the components that drive demand, I think it bodes well for continued growth.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, he said Ford hoped to start seeing returns on its investments in facilities and products.
“We’re starting to see some very good early signs of that right now in the third quarter Asia-Pacific we had a record market share, there was about 3.1 percent, in China we had a record market share,” of 3.6 percent, he said.
“With the growth of the products that we have in China going forward we will effectively double our market participation in segments in China between now and 2015.”
He added: “We know what our transformation plan is in Europe, and we know we have tremendous growth opportunities in Asia Pacific, so it’s looking for even more opportunities in each area of the world to strengthen the business.
“We’re really still at the beginning stages of operating truly as a global company .. and those are the things, as I go into the (COO) position, will be my priorities,” he added.
“It’s very energizing, and I’m very excited and very honored to work with the team in that role.”
Fields also praised the US administration of President Barack Obama, which he said had set up the regulatory framework for the US auto industry – almost destroyed by the 2008 financial crisis – through until 2025.
“From that standpoint even previous to the (November 6 presidential) election we had certainty around that, and we’re off and running in our plans to meet those requirements,” he said.
Since Obama’s re-election “it is encouraging to see that with the administration .. they’re working with the Congress in a bipartisan way to address some of the economic issues which are so important to all of us.”
Japanese car giant Toyota’s US boss Jim Lentz echoed Fields’ optimism that the US economy recovery will drive industry growth.
“Fueled by these positive economic trends, the auto industry is gaining momentum,” he said in a speech to the LA Auto Show, which opens to the public on Friday and continues through until December 9.