Ford's New Business Model

Ford (NYSE: F)usually dominates the NAIAS, but this year the auto company took a very different approach.

In this clip from Industry Focus: Industrials, Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear describes what Ford discussed at the conference -- from future mobility, to ride-sharing and fleet management, to a facelift for the F-150 -- and what its new plans will mean for the company in the long term.

A full transcript follows the video.

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Sean O'Reilly: So, Mr. Rosevear, we've gotten the lowdown on a bunch of cars that got rolled out at the International Auto Show. But what about Ford?

John Rosevear: That's interesting: Ford usually owns this show; it's in their backyard. They actually rent out Joe Louis Arena, which is the home of the Detroit Red Wings, and throw a big shindig in there, usually on the first press day, bright and early in the morning. They did that this year, and we all expected them to roll out some surprise new product, which is Ford's new trademark, but they did something different.

They talked about a bunch of things in passing, which we'll get to in a moment. And then they went into a presentation where CEO Mark Fields and some other folks talked about future mobility. This is a big part of Ford's business plan going forward. They're exploring a lot of business opportunities in and around ride-hailing, car-sharing, self-driving, electrification, and so forth. Ford is interestingly positioned to jump into some things -- we've written about this at some length on the site. Fleet management: If you want somebody to manage your fleet of autonomous cars, Ford would like to have that business.

O'Reilly: I can't believe they talked about it that much.

Rosevear: They did; it was kind of a surprise. It was also kind of a surprise because some of the things they talked about product-wise were really significant. The F-150, their most important product in the whole world, gets this big face-lift for 2018.

O'Reilly: That's the cash cow, obviously.

Rosevear: Oh my goodness, yes! As pickup sales go in the U.S., so go Ford's profits. I was talking to Mark Fields and he said the F-150 is the crown jewel -- or, the F-series, rather. It includes the Super Dutys. The F-series includes the heavy-duty trucks as well as the F-150. But they gave the F-150 a face-lift just three years after it was launched. It has a whole bunch of new front-end designs, keyed to each of the seven trim levels they have on this thing. It has a new, much more fuel-efficient transmission, jointly developed with General Motors, although Ford and GM each did their own programming and special sauce on it. The V8 engine is revised for more power and fuel economy. A bunch of new tech features.

They also came out and said, "Oh, by the way, we are, in fact, bringing back the Ranger and Bronco, as you guys have all been hinting at for a year and a half." This is now official confirmed info.

The Ranger is the midsized pickup. It went away several years ago; they still sell a Ranger in many overseas markets, but not here, haven't for a while. They will be building it -- we've heard a lot of talk from our president-elect about how Ford is sending the Focus to Mexico. My goodness, yes, because what they're doing is making room in that factory in Michigan to build the Ranger and Bronco, which are likely to be more profitable and higher-volume products put together. The Ranger will be the midsized pickup. There's a version of it being sold, as I said, around the world. The one that comes here will be a revamped version of the current version. If you look at Ford's European sites and so forth, you will see the Ranger; imagine that with a redesigned front end, and some more American premium features.

The Bronco -- there have been a lot of rumors around -- I had it confirmed from two very senior Ford execs that the Bronco will be all new. They wouldn't give a lot of hints about it, but they said it would be in keeping with the name. Bronco, historically, was a two-door SUV that, in early versions, had a removable top, was kind of Ford's answer to what we now call the Jeep Wrangler. Ford seems to be thinking in that direction. Reports are that Ford's design chief is driving a vintage Bronco around Detroit the last couple weeks [laughs], so clearly this is on their mind.

O'Reilly: By choice? [laughs]

Rosevear: By choice, yes! Good time of year for it. [laughs]

O'Reilly: [laughs] Yeah, right?

Rosevear: They are in the very early stages of thinking this out. But there were rumors in some quarters, which I actually talked about. Ford sells a Ranger-based SUV in some overseas markets called the Everest. The Bronco is not the Everest. That was made very clear to me by no less than Ford's global product chief, Raj Nair. The Bronco is an all-new design based on the Ranger chassis, so you kind of have an idea what size it'll be, but it'll be in keeping with Broncos of the past.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and GM. Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends GM. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.