DETROIT — Ford Motor CEO Jim Hackett on Tuesday asserted that the automaker is "turning the corner" and will have positive news in the coming months.
Speaking at the Detroit Economic Club, Hackett reiterated that 2019 will be a "year of execution," a phrase he has used since describing 2018 as disappointing in a year-end letter to employees. The automaker made $7 billion last year with a profit margin of 4.4 percent, down from 6.1 percent in 2017.
"No one in the company was proud," Hackett said. "My reason for writing about it was not to tell them they did a bad job. It was to tell myself I can be better. I'm telling myself I can't have another year like that. Not that I'm worried about getting fired; it's like, who wants to spend their time being average?"
Hackett has instituted an $11 billion global restructuring at Ford that includes a transformation of its product portfolio and cuts to its salaried work force. In North America, the automaker expects to eventually hit 10 percent profit margins.
Hackett on Tuesday said the restructuring is starting to bear fruit, although he declined to go into specifics.
"We're turning the corner," he said. "Just trust me on this. You're going to be reading a lot about Ford performance going forward."
Hackett is approaching his two-year anniversary leading Ford. He replaced Mark Fields as CEO in May 2017 and was tasked by Executive Chairman Bill Ford with shaking up the automaker's culture and speed up decision making.
But investors and analysts remain skeptical. Ford's stock price has fallen 16 percent since Hackett took over.
Still, Hackett argues he has made the automaker more "fit" and better prepared it for an economic downturn.
He cited the automaker's reduced time to deliver vehicles, saying when he first became CEO and ordered a Mustang it took 81 days, but that's been cut to 35 days for delivery of some Fusions.
"Part of this mindset is — not to be recession-proof — but to say, 'Come on recession, we're ready for you.' " he said. "Ford will be ready for the recession."
Hackett did not address Ford's ongoing salaried layoffs in North America, a process that began last November and is anticipated to wrap up at some point in the second quarter. It's unclear how many workers Ford will lay off, or how far along it is in the process.
The automaker also is working on development of autonomous vehicles, which Hackett said will be ready by 2021.