* Likely to decide 737 MAX factory in 6-8 months
* Sees global economy pick-up from late Q1
* CFO James Bell to retire
By Jonathan Standing
TAIPEI, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Boeing is likely to decide where its revamped 737 Max will be built in 6-8 months, but has no timeline yet for when provisional orders for the plane will become firm ones, its top marketing executive said on Tuesday.
At a media presentation in Taipei, Boeing’s vice president of marketing for commercial planes, Randy Tinseth, said the company was still talking with clients over the configuration of the jet, which promises about a 10-12 percent improvement in efficiency over exising models of Boeing’s best-selling jet.
“We’re looking at a number of potential options,” Tinseth said, when asked where the plane might be built.
“In terms of commitments to orders, that’s going to be on a case by case basis,” he said, adding that work was ongoing on the configuration, on optimising the engine and defining what range the aircraft would provide.
He declined to give a timeline.
Boeing has announced 496 “commitments” from 5 customers for the 737 MAX, a version of the plane with new engines desined to compete with the re-engined Airbus A320neo.
Boeing announced the re-engining decsion to prevent Airbus snatching an entire order from Boeing customer American Airlines in the summer, but investors and analysts are waiting for the orders to be completed and placed in Boeing’s books to claw back Airbus’s strong lead in the order race this year.
Boeing currently builds 737 aircraft at a twin assembly line facility in Renton outside Seattle.
It is locked in a dispute with unions over its decision to place a second assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing’s latest airplane, in South Caroline.
The 787 entered ordinary passenger service from Japan on Tuesday after a ceremonial flight last week, but glitches in the supply chain contributed to three years of delays in the arrival of the plane with its revolutionary carbon-fibre design.
Tinseth said he hoped customers would forgive Boeing for the delays, but he reaffirmed that the company would ramp up output of the plane to 10 per month in late 2013.
Boeing has also struggled with delays to its new 747-8 freighter, at a time when cargo carriers are rethinking their strategies as the global economy saps demand for goods worldwide.
Tinseth did not comment on the orders for the freighter, a stretched version of the 747 and the largest plane Boeing has ever built, but reiterated the cargo market was a “watch item”.
“Near term, the market has been flat, and fuel costs high,” he said. “But we expect the global economy to pick up from the end of Q1 to the middle of 2012,” he said.
Industry sources said last week that Boeing had granted concessions on other aircraft to maintain an order for 747-8 freighters from Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific , which took its first delivery of the new freighter jumbo on Tuesday.
On Monday, Boeing said a passenger version, the 747-8 Intercontinental, had completed flight tests for certification.
Boeing predicts that southeast Asian airlines will need 2,750 new airplanes valued at $410 billion over the next 20 years, Tinseth said. That includes 1,720 narrowbody jets like the 737 and A320 worth $150 billion.
Boeing sees China as having already emerged as a competitor in that market, noting that Ryanair , which currently flies only Boeing jets, is working on design of an airliner with China that could be rival to Boeing’s 737.
“China is committed to the marketplace,” Tinsseth said, adding that Boeing would need to meet any challenge new technology that help lower the cost of planes.
Separately Boeing said its chief financial officer James Bell would retire on April 1, 2012, and would be replaced by 45-year-old corporate controller Greg Smith.
Analyst Rob Stallard of RBC Capital Markets said Bell’s retirement was expected and the plans outlined by Boeing indicated a smooth transition.