Ford Posts Profit, Eyes Fuel Sippers to Aid Full Turnaround

Less than eight months after Ford Motor (s F) CEO Alan Mulally hightailed it to Capitol Hill in an Escape Hybrid, pleading for a bailout, the automaker has today posted a $2.3 billion quarterly profit and increased its U.S. market share by 2 percentage points — not too shabby for a Detroit automaker these days.


But Ford has at this point taken only the first steps on the road to recovery, with most of its profit for the last three months stemming from onetime gains resulting from debt restructuring this spring, as the Wall Street Journal reports. For a full turnaround, Ford is banking heavily on more fuel-efficient models and the technology that literally carried Mulally to Washington: hybrids.

Mulally has said he expects Ford to turn a profit in 2011. For that to happen, and for Ford to keep gaining market share at a time when able competitors like Hyundai — which today posted a record quarterly profit — are racing to pick up Detroit’s pieces, Ford needs to do well with the new products planned for the next few years.

As Ford took pains to highlight this week, the company has put enough effort into greening its lineup for 2010 that the automaker’s average fuel economy is expected to “improve approximately 20 percent through the end of 2010 vs. 2005, and the company is on track to improve fuel economy by more than 35 percent by 2015.”

Ford plans to introduce two new hybrids and roll out 30 new or upgraded powertrains globally next year, and launch at least four plug-in vehicles in the U.S. by 2012. By 2013, the automaker plans to have its new EcoBoost engine, which uses gas turbocharged direct-injection technology (for MPG improvements of up to 20 percent, according to Ford), in at least 90 percent of its lineup.

Ford is also bringing its Transit Connect van for small businesses — which gets 22 MPG for city driving and can qualify for the new cash-for-clunkers vouchers — stateside. (It’s been available in Europe since 2002.)

The company still faces a long, tough climb to the top of the growing green car dogpile — it’s hardly in the best financial shape to invest in cutting-edge technology, and it has some catching up to do when it comes to marketing small, fuel-efficient cars and hybrids in North America. It’s just now (like many large automakers) revving up for plug-in vehicles. (As Executive Chairman Bill Ford put it earlier this year, “Our ability to forecast has been just horrible.”) But as Hybrid Cars noted this week, hybrids are already looking like a winning bet for the company, which says 54 percent of Fusion Hybrid buyers have not bought Fords in the past, and 66 percent of them are “coming out of foreign vehicles.”

Of course, these moves to quickly clean up the lineup aren’t entirely self-motivated: The Obama administration has proposed tighter MPG standards starting with the 2012 model year, and Ford has raked in a $5.9 billion in low-interest loans from the feds to help it retool factories in five states to produce 13 more fuel-efficient models.