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When Alan Mulally left Boeing (BA) for Ford Motor (F) three years ago, industry watchers wondered: Does this guy know anything about cars? The question returned on Jan. 11 as Ford unveiled the 2012 Focus at the Detroit auto show. The compact is the first model with Mulally's mitts all over it.
Mulally has won much applause for shunning a government bailout and putting his company on a sustainable road to profitability. Now he needs to prove that his product strategy will work.
At the heart of it is a concept Mulally calls One Ford. The idea is to design one model for multiple markets, rather than having teams of engineers in different regions creating the same basic car. The appeal is obvious: It's a lot cheaper to build one model than several. The most successful so-called world cars are Toyota' (TM)s Corolla and Honda' (HMC)s Civic and Fit. They have the same guts from Boston to Beijing to Bogota, but often have different styling and features for local tastes. The new four-door or hatchback Focus, by contrast, will be almost exactly the same everywhere.
Ford and its U.S. rivals have tried to sell world cars before—and mostly failed, because the vehicles weren't tailored for individual markets. Mulally needs the Focus to work because the carmaker is planning to release several more models under the One Ford strategy. If he succeeds, he will have proved that a plane guy can teach Detroit a thing or two about cars.