In 2023, despite strikes, a $1.7 billion exceptional charge on its pension plan, mounting losses on its electric ranges and the price war launched by Tesla, consolidated sales are up 11% and cash generation is much improved compared with 2022.
Ford's free cash flow reached $7 billion, compared with zero the previous year. Management anticipates a similar year in 2024: even if this is only half-heartedly stated, we understand that it intends to reduce its ambitions in the electric segment; in this segment, its operating loss reached $4.7 billion in 2023.
On a unit basis, Ford lost $47,000 per electric vehicle sold in the fourth quarter. Unsustainable, the model calls for reform. The automaker has therefore announced that it will reduce production of the F-150 Lighting - the electric version of its blockbuster - and postpone plans to build a battery plant.
The same capital-intensive retreat is taking place on international markets, particularly in China, where taking on local manufacturers has become a suicide mission. Ford is following in the footsteps of other manufacturers, notably Stellantis.
Among Western automakers, only the Germans seem to remain adamant in their desire to win market share in China, no doubt because they believe they occupy a different positioning, in a quasi-luxury segment.
It should be noted that the rise in interest rates has had no impact on Ford's commercial activity - sales of new vehicles are of course dependent on credit facilities - nor on its ability to tap the capital markets and refinance its debt.
In this respect, the American automaker has a net debt of around $100 billion. This is a far cry from the balance sheet fortress of Stellantis, a veritable UFO among its peers, sitting on almost $25 billion in excess cash, yet still valued at a clear discount to Ford.
Above all, this commentary on results reveals the vast rationalization drive underway in the automotive industry, not unlike that seen in the renewable energies sector. Pressed to embrace all-electricity, it is now emerging from the fantasy with an undeniable hangover, and the determination to adopt a more balanced approach.