* Ford Motor chair says production will rise if necessary
* Bill Ford meets with Obama at White House
* Ford says efficiency strategy 'the right one'
(Adds Obama meeting, details of efficiency plan)
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, Dec 14 Ford Motor Co (F.N) is not
planning for a big sales gain in 2010 but will likely boost
vehicle production if business is better than expected, the
company's chairman said on Monday.
Bill Ford, who met President Barack Obama earlier at the
White House, told reporters at the Commerce Department that a
careful strategy has served Ford well this year, a tumultuous
one for the industry.
"We're not planning for a huge pickup next year. If we get
one, great, we'll ride it," Ford said.
"We're planning conservatively. Just as we did this year,
we've kept our inventories low. If things start to pop for the
better, we'll adjust our production upward and go that way," he
The latest figures showed that Ford U.S. sales were flat in
November compared to a year ago with plans to build 58 percent
more vehicles in North America in the first quarter. General
Motors sales fell 2 percent and Chrysler sales, 25 percent by
The economy, Ford said, was not great and he expressed
concern about joblessness.
"As long as unemployment stays high, it's hard to feel good
about the economy," Ford said after meeting with Commerce
Secretary Gary Locke on initiatives that business and
government should take to revitalize the economy.
Ford talked with Obama in the Oval Office, calling the
meeting a courtesy visit during which Ford complimented him on
his handling of the industry's restructuring this year.
"The way he stepped in with GM (General Motors Co) and
Chrysler and preventing the collapse of the supply base was
something they did swiftly and forcefully and it worked," Ford
The government loaned GM and Chrysler billions and
facilitated their bankruptcies. Ford Motor did not request a
Bill Ford said he and Obama did not discuss industry
prospects or the government's environmental initiatives, which
include plans to sharply increase auto fuel efficiency.
Pummeled financially this year by recession and a
collapsing light truck market, Ford Motor and other U.S. rivals
are betting their revival and future viability on smaller car
They aim to lure consumers into more efficient vehicles
that are cheaper to operate. For instance, Ford is set to roll
out the Fiesta small car in the United States by summer and a
redesigned Focus compact later in 2010.
Although fuel prices remain relatively low, Bill Ford said
the vehicle strategy remains "the right one" so long as Ford
cars are attractive to consumers.
"To achieve fuel efficiency, we're not giving up 'fun to
drive.' If we were, then I'd be worried about it," Ford said of
the potential impact of lower gasoline prices on Ford's
U.S. retail gasoline prices fell to the lowest level in
eight weeks, the Energy Department said on Monday. Regular
unleaded gasoline stood at an average $2.60 per gallon.
Bill Ford is a strong proponent of electric vehicles,
urging the industry to more more aggressively in that
(Reporting by John Crawley; Additional reporting by Tom
Doggett; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Carol Bishopric)