Ford reaps solid profits, surprises Wall Street

Ford Motor Co. has posted a net income of $2.6 billion in the second quarter, its fifth straight quarterly profit.

By , AP Auto Writers

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    Kelly Martinelli works on a pre-production 2012 Ford Focus at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., Thursday. Ford Motor Co. announced that it has posted a net income of $2.6 billion in the second quarter, as it continued to grab sales from rivals in a slowly recovering US market.
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Four years ago, Ford mortgaged everything down to the blue oval logo to save itself. Now, even as Americans remain skittish about the economy, it's reaping big rewards and stealing business from stumbling rivals.

Ford said Friday that it made $2.6 billion from April through June, its fifth straight quarterly profit. The company, which reported record losses in 2008, now predicts it will end 2011 with more cash than debt.

With its two longtime Detroit rivals still finding their way after spending time in bankruptcy last year, Ford, which never took government bailout money, extended its success story.

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President and CEO Alan Mulally said the company is ahead of where he thought it would be in its turnaround. It now sells the most popular pickup truck in the U.S., the F-Series, and the most popular crossover SUV, the Escape.

"Our performance this year gives us great confidence going forward," he said.

In the past year, Ford has gained a bigger share of the American market, the equivalent of about 154,000 cars and trucks. Rivals Toyota, General Motors and Chrysler have all lost ground.

Toyota stumbled this year because of safety-related recalls. GM and Chrysler's precarious financial positions had some people shying away from their cars.

Mulally, a tough manager masked by a boyish face and gee-whiz demeanor, joined Ford in October 2006, a year into a turnaround plan that called for closing plants, cutting jobs and dropping some of its models.

He removed obstacles, put new managers in place and forced feuding parts of the company to work together. He had cards printed out for every employee exhorting people to work together and accelerate development of new products — and carries one in his own pocket. In weekly management meetings, he holds people accountable but also greets success with applause.

Michael Robinet, an analyst for the consulting firm IHS Automotive, credits Mulally with motivating the work force. But he said the biggest reason for Ford's success is a complete overhaul of its factory and sales strategies.

When the company was losing billions last decade, it kept cranking out cars and trucks even if they weren't selling, because high labor costs made it too expensive to shut down production.

But late in 2008, the United Auto Workers union gave up a provision known as the jobs bank, in which automakers had to pay laid-off workers even if their plants were closed.

Now, workers have to take jobs at other factories or risk losing wages and benefits. With 12 fewer factories and a North American work force that is half the 140,000 people it was five years ago, Ford can limit production when demand is slow.

"It's not about the moving metal any more. It's about moving the metal profitably," Robinet said.

Ford's leaner development system allows more of its cars and trucks to share parts. The new Fiesta subcompact, for example, will be sold around the world with only minor variations. And Ford plans to bring at least six vehicles from Europe to North America in the next few years, including a new Focus and the C-Max minivan.

Ford's second-quarter revenue rose 14 percent to $31.3 billion. Its profit was 61 cents per share, 8 cents less than a year ago, when a big debt payment reduced Ford's interest payments.

Ford said it expects to make money for the next two years. Its stock rose 63 cents to $12.73. Ford shares fell as low as $1.26 in 2008. It's still a bargain, trading at about about seven times earnings. Toyota's ratio is more than 46.

Ford remains cautious about weaker demand for cars and trucks at home. It cut its forecast for total U.S. sales to between 11.5 million and 12 million on Friday. Earlier, it had predicted sales of up to 12.5 million.

Ford held its third-quarter production forecast steady at 1.27 million cars and trucks worldwide, instead of raising production as it did in the second quarter.

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