Ford still mum on its $11 billion plans

Takata air bag recall by the numbers
William Walker via CNN
In July of 2018, Ford Motor Co. agrees to a $299.1 million dollar settlement over consumer costs related to faulty Takata air bags. It's estimated that 6 million Ford vehicles have still not been repaired in the recall, and 30 million cars of all makes remain unrepaired in the U.S. Ford is the seventh carmaker to reach an agreement bringing the total settlement cost to $1.5 billion.

Ford is not yet willing to tell investors how it is going to spend $11 billion.

Three months ago Ford told investors it is looking to reshape its business, and it would spend $11 billion over the next three to five years to do it. Many investors had been looking forward to the company’s third quarter earnings to get some clues about its its plans.

They’ll need to keep waiting, the company told investors Wednesday. Wall Street won’t get the details about which businesses Ford would pull out of, or which ventures Ford planned to invest in.

“We’re fully committed to sharing details as soon as we can,” CEO Jim Hackett told investors during a conference call. “But I can’t allow us to get ahead of the process.”

He said that the company needs to get support for the changes from various stakeholders within Ford. He did promise there would be disclosure of “specific details” in the coming weeks and months.

Efforts to reshape the company will be an ongoing progress, not something that will all be revealed all at once, Hackett and Robert Shanks, the chief financial officer, said.

“I know it’s frustrating,” Shanks told investors on the call. “One can’t go to the last page of the book and look at the ending. It has to unfold.”

One clue is that Ford is looking at possibly selling stakes in its autonomous vehicle unit that was set up as a separate company in August. The unit is currently 100% owned by Ford but Shanks said it has received “significant interest” from potential partners and financial investors.

General Motors has set up a similar corporate structure for its autonomous vehicle unit and attracted billions in investment dollars already from SoftBank and Honda.

So what investors got was a quarterly earnings report that was ho-hum. It reported a drop in earnings roughly in line with Wall Street expectations. It also said it expects to hit the full-year earnings guidance it had previously given, enough to send its stock up 6% in afterhours trading. Ford’s stock has fallen about 20% since its initial disclosure of its’ plans to reshape the business.

Ford had announced earlier Wednesday a revised structure for its business in China, with a new boss for its operations there. The company’s third quarter results were hurt by a $208 million loss in its Asia-Pacific unit as well as a drop in sales in China, now the world’s largest market for car sales.

Ford executives were set to talk with investors later in the evening Wednesday.