Ford Motor Co, which owns 11 percent of Mazda Motor Corp, has not yet fully discussed its long-term relationship with the Japanese automaker but is pleased with the current setup, a top Ford executive said on Thursday.
Ford global manufacturing and labor affairs chief John Fleming said his company and Mazda would continue to share manufacturing opportunities, which he said present themselves two or three times a year. But he shied away from making predictions on the longer-term relationship.
Fleming said Ford and Mazda would work together on a project-by-project basis.
What happens longer term? I think that's still to be discussed, decided, Fleming told a UBS conference in London that was available live online. Right now, I think we're happy with where we are with Mazda.
Ford sold its controlling stake in Mazda two years ago to free up cash, but its remains Mazda's largest shareholder. The Ford stake was reduced to 13 percent from one-third ownership in late 2008, and later to 11 percent when Mazda issued more shares to raise cash for investing in hybrid and other technologies.
Fleming emphasized the active tie-up of the companies, saying they are partners in a $350 million investment in a Thailand plant to build the next generation of compact pickup trucks. Production is to start in mid-2011.
Two months ago, Ford and Mazda opened a $500 million plant in Thailand to build Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 passenger cars.
Ford is cutting the number of platforms for its vehicles to 12 by 2013 from 25 in 2009, when it had the most among its competitors, Fleming said.
By 2013, he said, 83 percent of Ford's production volume will be based on its core platforms, up from 49 percent in 2009.
In the last two years, Ford has introduced new products or replaced or refreshed 45 percent of its U.S. lineup, Fleming said.
We plan to replace or refresh up to 90 percent of our lineup in North America, South America, Europe and Asia-Pacific by volume by 2012, Fleming said.
Fleming reiterated Ford's outlook for a stronger balance sheet and profitability, saying that by the end of 2011, the company's automotive operations will move into a net cash position from their current net debt standing.
He also said Ford expects to improve overall profitability in 2011.
Ford's net losses totaled $30 billion from 2006 through 2008, but the company has transformed itself during the industry's worst slump in its home North American market in more than two decades. It has shown net profits for the last five quarters.
We are moving as a company from survival to growth, said Fleming, who joined Ford in England in 1967.
Shares of Ford were down 0.5 percent at $11.74 in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange after rising 2 percent earlier in the session.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and John Wallace)