Jac Nasser, 50, takes over as president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co. on 1 January 1999. He talked about his plans to make Ford a stronger global player with Mary Connelly of Automotive News Europe on 11 November.
How would you characterize your relationship with the Ford family?
We are very fortunate to have a family that has maintained its interest - in terms of energy, commitment and capital - in a company that has been essentially in the same business for 95 years. That makes us unique.
It also places a responsibility on everyone in the Ford team to act like a family owner and an entrepreneur. I think I have a very good relationship with the Ford family. They are very supportive of the business objectives.
You assume your new position in January. What do you hope to accomplish during your administration?
Leveraging our global brands is going to be a very important element for growth. Secondly, looking at the business the way consumers and the markets look at our products and our business. Third, concentrating on making sure that we continue with the focus on total enterprise cost. We will concentrate on these major themes.
Do you include Mazda in the global brands?
In terms of the brand positioning, Mazda is very much a fully fledged member of the family. One of the advantages we have is that we have a good geographic spread of strong brands. Not only does it give us the opportunity to grow the business and increase our revenue, but it also gives us a quality of revenue. That gives us a competitive advantage.
In five years' time, what will the distribution network look like?
Five years is probably too close to call. If you ask about 20 to 30 years down the line, I'd say we will have quite a range of different means to purchase a car. They will include Web transactions. What we know as traditional dealers will still represent a large component of the business. Looking beyond Ford, superstores may also be selling cars. We may also offer a concierge-type system for customers who desire very personalized service.
Will the emerging sport-wagon segment, what Ford calls multi-activity vehicles, affect traditional sport-utility and light-vehicle sales?
Initially, not significantly. But over a period of time, yes. As these new concepts of vehicles mature in a design sense and a function sense, I think that will happen. I am a strong believer that what is really happening in the marketplace today - particularly in the USA, where the customers have such a variety of products - is that more and more customers will be able to tailor a product specifically to their own requirements. The days of being able to sell 800,000 or 1 million of one variety or one style of vehicle are going to be largely behind us.
Hence the focus on the customer?
Companies that can tune into what the customer wants are going to thrive in the 21st century. We get very introverted. We say we are re-engineering the product development system or we are cutting down the time it takes to develop a product. In actual fact, we are going through a revolution. It is turning what had been traditionally engineering, manufacturing, sales-dominant companies into consumer-focused and market-oriented enterprises. All of our traditional standards are changing significantly and changing at a velocity that is unprecedented.
Which segments of the market have the healthiest outlook?
Clearly, crossover vehicles are going to be a segment that continues to grow. The luxury and premium segments will also continue to outpace the market. The segments that offer a lot of versatility and functionality will continue to grow. Sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks that offer passenger and cargo flexibility -those are going to be growth areas.
Ford has more than $20 billion in cash on hand. What do you plan to do with it?
We have a tremendous affinity for cash. For us, cash not only represents one measure of a successful business, it also enables the whole Ford team to concentrate on the fundamentals of the business - and not the exterior threats.
Most importantly, it gives us a lot of flexibility. That flexibility can range from increasing the dividend, as we did in the third quarter, to potentially looking at stock buybacks, to getting more productive in any segment of the market we want. We can go for growth, increase our technology and research capability, or look at acquisitions if the time and the opportunity are right. All of those options are open to us. We like the fact that we have that flexibility. But we are not in any hurry to spend it, or to exchange our hard-earned cash for someone else's liabilities.
What does the Ford Focus have to deliver for you to consider it a success?
I believe this is truly the best program that we have implemented on a global basis. I regard it as a success already, because of the way the team has worked and the way it has been designed to appeal to a very broad audience around the world.
You have created a geographically diverse leadership team. What attributes are you looking for in future leaders?
Global experience is very important in almost any industry now. It is important not just because you have a passport that indicates you have traveled. The important part is the understanding of different cultures. A global mind-set and a global attitude are one thing. Second is an incredible and deep and passionate commitment to the business, the customer and the shareholder - and an absolute love for the product. I am describing the best of the breed.
How is DaimlerChrysler a stronger or weaker competitor than when the companies were separate?
Together, they are a tougher competitor than each was on their own - potentially. The industrial logic of DaimlerChrysler is difficult to dispute. There are tremendous benefits that are potentially available by taking the best practices from each of the companies.