Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Business

May 2, 2014

For new Ford CEO Fields, aluminum truck is key

DETROIT (AP) — For all the miracles Alan Mulally pulled off at Ford Motor Co., one eluded him. He couldn't make the stock price leap.

Soon, the problem of boosting Ford's stock will fall to Mark Fields. On Thursday, Ford officially announced that Mulally would retire on July 1 and Fields would replace him as CEO. Fields was widely seen as the heir apparent after being named chief operating officer late in 2012.

Under Mulally, Ford underwent a massive restructuring, resumed paying a dividend and ran off a string of highly profitable quarters. While the stock has doubled from around $8 when Mulally took over in 2006, it hasn't closed above $18 for more than two years. For the past three months, it's been stuck between $14.50 and $16.50 as harsh winter weather kept buyers away from showrooms.

The stock could stay in limbo for a while. Ford has warned that pretax profit will fall to between $7 billion and $8 billion this year from $8.5 billion in 2013, as it launches a record 23 vehicles worldwide and builds seven plants, including four in China. Investors don't often embrace reports of lower profits.

Analysts don't see much upside for the stock until Ford starts selling a revolutionary new aluminum-body F-150 pickup late this year. The truck, which will be 700 pounds lighter than the current version, could get close to 30 miles per gallon of gas on the highway, far better than its competition.

But Ford faces the gargantuan tasks of retooling factories to produce such a large body out of something other than steel, and of convincing skeptical buyers that an alloy version of the nation's top-selling vehicle is just as tough as the old one.

"If they can pull it off, I think it could sure be good for Ford, and that stock will take off and go," said Gary Bradshaw, a portfolio manager with Hodges Capital in Dallas. "I guess if you get 30 miles per gallon, we'll all be driving one."

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