Business

Ford chairman says 2011 shaping up to be a 'good' year

Bill Ford - the great grandson of Henry Ford - has spent his working life selling cars to the world. But now he's worried we may soon have too many of them.

"We have 800 million vehicles on the road worldwide," he says. "By mid-century that's going to grow to anywhere between 2-3 billion vehicles."

He points to two main reasons for this explosion in car growth: developing nations getting wealthier and urbanisation.

The result? "It's really a recipe for global gridlock," he said.

The answer? "I think its incredibly important that companies like ours start to figure out the solutions to that."

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There will be multiple solutions to the problem, he said. Mass transit systems will need to get better. And vehicles are about to become more intelligent too. They will tell drivers the best route, where parking spaces are, communicate with other vehicles. and with the traffic infrastructure too.

"People will always want individual mobility; we will always provide it for them. We just have to do it in a smarter way," Mr Ford said.

Detroit on the Thames

Bill Ford is in London to celebrate 100 years of Ford in Britain. I meet him as he tours the company's engine plant at Dagenham, east of London.

The company was founded in 1903. By 1911 it was assembling Model T's - regarded as the first affordable automobile - in a disused tram works in Trafford Park, Manchester.

But it was Henry Ford who chose the Dagenham site to create the "Detroit of Europe" on the banks of the Thames.

At its peak this powerhouse of the British industry employed 55,000 people. More than 10 million cars were built there - including the Cortina and Fiesta - before car production ended in 2002.

Today Ford no longer makes cars in Britain. Instead it makes petrol and diesel engines in Bridgend and Dagenham. "One in every three engines in the Ford world is shipped out of the UK," says Mr Ford.

Crucially the UK is also home to Ford's Dunton Technical Centre. It is Britain's largest automotive engineering centre and employs 3,500 people.

And Ford wants to make sure that the UK keeps producing high quality graduates.

To that end it is investing £1m into a new UK scholarship scheme. This will provide £10,000 of support for 100 of the next generation of engineers and scientists.

Image caption October 1931: The first vehicle rolls off the production line at Ford's new Dagenham factory

"It is important that the UK continues to turn out students that are well versed in engineering and manufacturing", he said. "That's the backbone of any manufacturing economy. "

Recovery

In April, Ford posted its best quarterly profit for 13 years. And unlike its main US rivals, GM and Chrysler, the company did not have to be bailed out by the US government during the global downturn.

"I wouldn't trade places with anybody," says Mr Ford. "I love where we are positioned. I never thought I'd see the day when General Motors would go into bankruptcy. It was really an unprecedented time."

Mr Ford says the company borrowed money from the financial markets in 2006, before the credit markets closed down. The cash was used to restructure its operations, but Ford continued to invest in new vehicles and technology.

This investment is now paying off, he says.

And as for the coming year?

"2011 feels pretty good right now," he says. "You have Asia Pacific going strong but slowing down a little bit, Europe is holding pretty steady, the US is at a very low level but is coming back a little bit... and South America is going well.

"So on balance I'd have to say that 2011 is a pretty good year," he said.

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