Market Overview

Trading Ford: A Rundown of the Company's Recent News (F)

According to Bloomberg, last week was good for Ford's CEO Alan Mulally, who has been paid $58.3 million in stock to reward him for the company's turnaround.

In filings with the SEC last Tuesday, Ford paid the stock to Mulally as part of a 2009 incentive plan. After $30.1 billion in losses during the period of 2006 through 2008, Ford has earned $29.5 billion in the last three years. Shares in the company are currently trading near $12.40 at the close of markets on Tuesday, a far cry from when they were being traded as low as $1.01 in November 2008. Besides the stock, Mulally will get other compensation for 2001, including his salary and benefits. In the last two years, Mulally has been awarded over $100 million worth of Ford stock. In addition, Mulally was given 1.28 million stock options, which he can start exercising next year, and 376,016 restricted stock units, which can be converted into shares in 2014.

Forbes reports that February was a big month for the American auto industry, and Ford's business reflected that. Overall sales for Ford increased by 14% last month, to 179,119 vehicles, and retail sales were up 19%. The rising gasoline prices in February did not cause automotive sales to fall, but Ken Czubay, VP of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service for Ford, said that the mix of vehicles being sold showed that customers are putting more importance on the fuel economy of cars they're looking to buy. Shares of Ford were up 2.6%, higher than GM (NYSE: GM) but lower than Fiat (OTC: FIATY).

Green Car Reports says that at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show on Tuesday, it was revealed that the popular Ford Focus compact will soon be available with the latest version of Ford's EcoBoost engine technology. The 3-cylinder, 1.0-liter EcoBoost system combines gas mileage comparable to many hybrid vehicles with the performance of a 1.6-liter engine. In European tests, the EcoBoost engine can provide fuel economy of up to 58.9 miles per imperial gallon, equal to about 45 mpg U.S. While it hasn't been announced when the EcoBoost Focus will be available in the U.S., Ford Fiestas using the same engines will be coming to American markets soon.

According to the Huffington Post, last Monday, Ford began to ship upgrades to its SYNC voice-activated entertainment system, which will allow tablet devices like iPad, Kindle, and Nook to be controlled by voice instead of by hand. Already anticipating criticism from safety advocates, Ford has said that concern for driver safety was the reason for upgrading the SYNC system.

Ford spokesman Alan Hall said, “Drivers are bringing these devices into the car already. We're allowing them to access the content in a safer way.” Not that there weren't other reasons for the upgrade; many consumers have complained that SYNC is hard to use, unreliable, and slow. The system has already been the focus of controversy.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, known for his vehement stance against distracted driving, said last month that he wants auto companies to block any devices that let drivers to text, browse, tweet, or dial from their vehicles. On the other hand, Consumer Reports' senior automotive editor Jake Fisher said that Ford wanting more devices to work with the system makes sense, because using SYNC is safer than holding a device and trying to use it while driving.

While the upgrade makes more devices compatible with voice activation or controls on the steering wheel, the batteries for most devices will still not be charged by the system; the iPad, Kindle Fire (NASDAQ: AMZN), HP (NYSE: HPQ) Touchpad, Nook Color (NYSE: BKS), and Sony (NYSE: SNE) Tablet S, among others, all require more electricity than Ford's outlets provide. Jeff Ostrowski, Ford's supervisor of SYNC software development, said that voice-controlled access to tablet devices is a way to help ensure that the driver's priority does not shift away from driving. Ostrowski also said that Ford hopes the newly-released iPad 3 (NASDAQ: AAPL) will work with the upgrade.

Xconomy reports that Ford has released an upgrade to its MyFord Touch software for free to over 300,000 current customers. MyFord Touch users will receive the upgrade by mail, in the form of a USB flash drive containing the new software, instructions for the one-hour download, and an updated user guide. Customers can either perform the upgrade at home or have it done at a local dealership. The upgrade is meant to answer users' complaints about the system, which replaced the buttons and knobs on the dashboard with a touchscreen.

MyFord Touch has also been criticized for its tendency to crash and distract drivers. Ford user interface engineer Jennifer Brace says the upgrade cleans up the graphics and enlarges the fonts, speeds up the screen response time, adds support for tablet computers and audio books, and adds photo-realistic 3-D views to the navigation system. Brace says that Ford and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), who made the interface, took feedback from employees who use the system, market research from groups like J.D. Power and Associates, and surveys of customers and dealers when making the upgraded software. And it seems that these features are influencing consumer buying habits. Ford claims that in owner surveys 56 percent of buyers said that technology like MyFord Touch and SYNC was a key factor in their purchase decision. This means that it is extremely important to maintain customer satisfaction.

Xconomy also says that last month, Ford announced that beta test kits of OpenXC, its open-source software research platform, were being shipped to developers and universities around the globe, including MIT, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University. Created by Ford and Bug Labs, based in New York City, OpenXC lets developers read information from a vehicle's internal communications network and create both software apps and plug-and-play hardware modules. Ford technical expert T.J. Giuli says the goal is to create an environment where developers can experiment and create apps which Ford's own engineers wouldn't think of designing, especially apps made for niche markets. Ford hopes that OpenXC will not only increase innovation, but also help cover every aspect of customer satisfaction.

Drive, reports that, unless a miracle happens, the end is nigh for the struggling Ford Falcon, the full-size car which has been produced by Ford Australia since 1960. The model has government assistance to keep it being manufactured until 2016, but will almost certainly be discontinued after that.

At the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally spoke about the company's One Ford policy, where cars are made for the global market. In the speech, he mentioned almost every model in Ford's new line-up, but notably left out the Falcon. When he was specifically asked about the Falcon, Mulally did not elaborate, only saying “We love the Falcon,” before stating again that large car sales, both in Australia and around the world, are going down. He also would not talk about any further developments with government co-investments, saying “We have nothing to announce today.” Mulally also refused to comment on Ford's long-term strategy for Australia, and whether the Falcon's place would be taken by the mid-size Mondeo or full-size Taurus. The Falcon's future has been uncertain for a long time, with sales of large cars declining and consumers instead buying small cars and high-riding SUVs.

Ad Age Mediaworks reports that, to promote the redesigned Escape compact SUV, Ford has created six hour-long episodes of a reality show called Escape Routes, which will begin to air on NBC later this month. According to Crystal Worthem, brand content and alliances manager for Ford, the company handed over the show and gave up all ad revenue to NBC, instead of buying the time from the network, with the only requirement being that Ford will be the exclusive automotive advertiser.

This is the first time prime-time TV has been used this way by an automaker to introduce a new car. Ford says that Escape Routes will follow six two-person teams who take part “in a coast-to-coast series of spontaneous adventures and interactive challenges using their Escapes.” The first episode of Escape Routes is scheduled to debut on Saturday, March 31, at 8:00pm on NBC and at 11:00pm on the cable network mun2. The day after the broadcast, each episode will also run on NBC.com and mun2.tv. Saturday nights are traditionally a weak spot in television schedules, and the networks usually use it to air repeats, instead of launching new programs. Of course, this isn't the first unconventional way the new Escape has been marketed - last year, Ford worked with video game company Zynga (NASDAQ: ZNGA), the creators of FarmVille, to unveil the redesigned SUV through social gaming.

Posted-In: Earnings News Management Events Global Trading Ideas Best of Benzinga

 

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