DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — It's been a year since Joe Hinrichs took over as head of Ford Motor Co.'s Americas division, the latest step in a journey many think could eventually lead to the CEO's office.
Hinrichs, 46, got the job running Ford's North and South American businesses after a three-year stint as head of its Asia Pacific division. In Asia, he presided over Ford's most ambitious growth plan in 50 years.
He says his experience with Asia's prickly governments, nascent supplier network and volatile markets is helping him in South America, where new vehicles like the Ranger pickup and EcoSport SUV have helped Ford eke out a small profit this year despite inflation and instability.
Meanwhile, North America has enjoyed record profits and market share gains thanks to strong sellers like the F-Series pickup and Ford Escape SUV. Hinrichs has been quietly preparing for a big product rollout in 2014. Ford plans to introduce 16 new vehicles in the U.S., including the new Mustang sports car and Lincoln MKC small crossover. A new F-150 pickup is also in the works, but details are under wraps.
Hinrichs sat down with The Associated Press Monday to talk about his first year in the Americas and what's ahead in 2014. On Wednesday, Ford said pretax profit could decline next year, including in North America, partly because of the cost of the big vehicle launch.
Here are some excerpts from the interview with Hinrichs:
SLOWING SALES PACE: Sales of cars and trucks have risen by 1 million a year over the past four years, and should end this year around 15.5 million. Hinrichs expects that red-hot pace of growth to slow next year — a development that could actually help Ford.
Carmakers usually have to shut down plants when they change over to a new vehicle. That lost production is more detrimental when sales are booming.
"In a launch year, it's actually not bad if the industry's not growing as fast," Hinrichs says.
Industrywide, Hinrichs says, it's easier for automakers and suppliers to plan and produce enough parts when sales are steady. But there is a downside: Inventory levels have risen in the second half of this year, he says, and overproduction could bring about costly price wars.
QUALITY CHECKS: Ford and Lincoln were near the bottom of Consumer Reports' annual reliability rankings and J.D. Power's quality survey this year. Owners complained about glitches in the MyFordTouch touch-screen dashboard and lower-than-expected fuel economy on the new C-Max hybrid. The Escape was recently recalled for the seventh time, including multiple recalls related to fuel leaks from the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine.