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Auto industry gets a prescription: guts, grit, new ideas.

The automotive industry needs to quickly develop a new roadmap and press harder for innovation to connect the industry's great past with the needs of tomorrow, two Ford Motor Company executives told industry leaders at last month's Global Leadership Conference at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W VA.

Mark Fields, Ford executive vice president and president of the Americas, and Anne Stevens, newly appointed Ford executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Americas, made the comments as part of keynote addresses at the Society of Automotive Engineers' prestigious industry conference, attended annually by automakers, suppliers, and business leaders.

Recent auto industry setbacks "prove that the roadmaps our companies followed for 100 years are no longer valid," Fields says. "Business models have changed. Consumers and markets have changed. We have to change, too. From now on, only those automakers and supplier companies that find new ways to work together--and strike down some new, uncharted paths--are going to survive."

Fields insists: "Guts, grit, and new ideas will be the key to winning in the automotive game today."

Personally, Fields says, he is bringing the lessons he learned from 10 years outside the United States--at Mazda in Japan and in Europe running the Premier Automotive Group and Ford of Europe--to his new role leading Ford's American operations.

"The task is to fix the business and then seek competitive advantage through innovation," Fields said. "All actions in North America are going to be fast, focused, and fundamental. We will jettison excess bureaucratic baggage. We will break constraints. And we will make firm decisions."

Newly appointed as Ford's chief operating officer in the Americas, Stevens outlines the critical role of innovation in moving the auto industry forward. With its expansive scientific and technical knowledge, the auto industry has the opportunity to be the first generation to actually give back to the planet, she explains. Ford's Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid, along with the lean, green and flexible Ford Rouge Plant, are examples of the confident first steps Ford has taken toward this goal.

"Innovation is at the heart of American progress, and it is right up there with 'individual rights' and 'liberty' as attitudes that literally put this country on the map," Stevens says.

Additional steps need to be taken by all automakers in areas such as alternative fuels, bio-diesel, fuel cells and hydrogen powered vehicles, she says. The industry can accomplish the goals in a timely and orderly fashion by using "good old American innovation."

Stevens expresses concern that, with the declining number of students studying science and engineering, the future of the U.S. auto industry runs the risk of being completely dependent on engineering knowledge residing abroad. The building blocks of the auto industry are eroding at a time when such nations as China are gathering strength, she says.

"This does not bode well for the manufacturing base in the United States--and that means us," Stevens says. "If America is to maintain its manufacturing know-how, we must fill that engineering pipeline. We cannot afford to be slow to market because of an insufficient engineering base at home." Ford Motor Company, www.rsleads.com/511tp-152
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Publication:Tooling & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Words:524
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