Commentary

Where’s Ford? Not Looking for a Bail Out

All the debate over the GM and Chrysler bail out has obscured an even more important fact: Ford Motor Company, once the “sickman” of the U.S. auto industry, isn’t asking for any help. USA Today did a great profile on the company and its CEO, former Boeing executive Alan Mulally recently, and its worth a read by anyone interested in the future of the U.S. auto industry and the tactics of the Obama Administration.

Why isn’t Ford asking for taxpayer money? The company believes it has the cash to weather the storm, and it’s focused on the long term. It’s strategy is to focus on creating long-term value, and Mulally is not shy about learning from what he believes is the “best of brand” in the auto industry: Toyota.

With its crosstown rivals on the ropes, Ford Motor (F) is painting itself as Detroit’s standout — the only U.S. automaker weathering the auto sales depression without taxpayer life support.

While that may be a short-term accomplishment, Ford is reaching for much more. CEO Alan Mulally is trying to guide the 105-year-old company closer to the model of a foreign rival he makes no secret of having long admired: Toyota. (TM) In doing so, the company is anticipating how the auto world may be realigned by the time the global economy finally rebounds.

It raises an interesting question: If the U.S. auto industry is so moribound, how is that Ford was able to turn itself around? What is the justification for propping up GM and Chrysler? Moreover, the federal government is now pushing for a Chrysler-Fiat partnership that, with U.S. taxpayer subsidies, may well undercut the economic viaibility of Ford (and other leading companies with very large investments in the U.S. such as Toyota and Honda)?

Of course, given the heavy-handed industrial policy currently under way, it’s highly unlikely that Ford will invite greater government scrutiny of their operations by publicly criticizing either the Administration or his rivals.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.