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Auto blogFri, 28 Jun 2013 08:14:00 EST
Bill Ford Jr. has more sway than ever over the automaker that bears his surname, as the great-grandson of Ford's founder has reportedly doubled is holdings of Class B Ford stock. According to a report from Reuters (which cites a newly discovered securities filing), he acquired some 3.7 million Class B shares from an unnamed family member.
Class B shares of Ford stock are held by descendants of Henry Ford and offer expanded voting power to their holders - Bill Ford Jr. now controls roughly 11.5 percent of the total Class B pool. Ford Jr. is also a one of five trustees that manage a voting trust that oversees the majority of these "supervoting" shares. In total, Reuters reports there are 71 million Class B shares that account for 40 percent of the voting power in the company, despite making up just 2 percent of the total volume of all Ford stock.
Ford Jr. served as Ford's CEO until 2006, when he stepped down to hire and make space for current CEO, Alan Mulally. The move to consolidate Ford family voting power, at least somewhat, is seen by many as a comforting sign with Mulally's departure from the company likely to happen in the next several years.
While most of us believe that small, fuel efficient cars are the key to global expansion for US automakers, Jim Farley, Ford's vice president of Global Marketing, thinks otherwise. Last week, we attended an exclusive sneak preview of the Ford Edge Concept in advance of the Los Angeles Auto Show, and Farley told us that it's actually utility vehicles that will help the Blue Oval gain market share overseas. "There is no other segment in our industry that is growing like utilities," he said. "We expect over the next five years this full family of [utility] vehicles to really drive our growth as a company."
And Farley has the numbers to back it up, too. Ford projects overall automotive sales to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2017, but the company's utility vehicles are expected to boom by an impressive 41 percent during that same period. Much of that growth will be in China, where Ford estimates its utility sales will explode. "The biggest opportunity for us globally for utilities is in China," Farley said. "China utility growth is expected to more than double from where it is today to 2017, which isn't that far away." Most astounding is that Ford projects its own utility sales in China will eventually increase by more than 2,000 percent when smaller crossovers, such as the EcoSport and Kuga (sold as the Escape in North America), and the Edge and Explorer, are factored in.
Ford's VP also expects utilities to lead the way in the struggling European market. "With all the difficulties of the European market, there is one segment that has actually expanded in volume over the last several years even though the market is way down, and that's utilities," Farley told us. Ford estimates that their utility sales will grow 65 percent in Europe from 2012-2017. "The utility segment is projected to grow we think about thirty percent between now and 2017 in Europe, and we think we are going to grow twice that rate as a brand," Farley continued.
Bill Ford went on the offensive to combat the rumors that CEO Alan Mulally would leave Dearborn for Steve Ballmer's vacated position leading Microsoft, adding that even if the 68-year-old, former Boeing exec were to depart, the Ford executive team is in a good place.
"I'm happy [Mulally] is going to stick around. But we also feel really good about where we are in terms of succession," Ford told Bloomberg TV, according to Automotive News. Rumors first cropped up about Mulally leaving Ford when AllThingsD speculated that he was in the running, early last month. In that same report, which you can read here, Ford's board of directors reportedly okayed the CEO stepping down ahead of his planned retirement in 2014.
That opened the floodgates, culminating in a report from a few days ago that the rumors over Ballmer's successor just might be true. The story is especially troubling, as Ford hasn't had Mulally under contract, according to AN. "He's here as long as he and I would like it to happen," Ford said, "We're also cognizant of training the next generation and getting them ready to go as well."