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Ford Motor Company has a dual-class stock structure of Class A and Class B shares. The roughly three billion Class A shares are for the general public like you and me, while the roughly 71 million Class B shares are all owned by the Ford family. Each Class A share gets the shareholder one vote, each Class B share is worth 16 votes, the result being that Common Stock holders control about 60 percent of the company while the Ford family controls 40 percent even though it holds far fewer shares. The only way that could ever change would be if the Fords sell their Class B shares, but even so, Class B shares revert to Class A when sold outside the family, so they'd have to sell a whole bunch of them.
A contingent of Class A shareholders think the dual-class system is unfair, and for the past few years a vote's been held during the annual shareholders meeting to end it. It has failed every time, as it just did again during the meeting held this week. A smidge over 33 percent voted to end the dual system, outvoted by the 67 percent who are happy with the way Ford is going - unsurprising in view of a corporate turnaround that will be part of business-class curricula for years to come.
On the sidelines, Ford elected Ellen R. Marram to the post of independent director, the first woman to hold the job. The former Tropicana CEO and 20-year Ford board member replaces retiring board member Irvine Hockaday who helped bring Alan Mulally to the CEO position.
We often mock Toyota for building boring, soulless cars, but a new study by Consumer Reports suggests that regardless of whether that's true, the company has some of the best used cars on the market. In its report on used cars from 2004-2013, the Japanese automaker had 11 vehicles among its brands on the list - more than any other automaker.
CR breaks the list down by cost and vehicle size, and Toyota has at least one entry at every price point and in nearly every segment. To score a recommendation, a vehicle had to perform well in the magazine's initial tests and score above-average reliability results. It also tried to only suggest cars with electronic stability control. Of the 28 recommended vehicles, Honda/Acura had the second most mentions at six, and Ford, Hyundai and Subaru managed two each.
The Detroit brands also made it to the list, but not in a positive way. Consumer Reports compiled a list of 22 vehicles it wouldn't recommend because "they have multiple years of much-worse-than-average overall reliability." General Motors had the most unrecommended models on the list at six, but Chrysler and Ford weren't far behind, with five cars each from their brands not making the grade. The full list of recommendations is available on CR's website.
Ford is doing well. It can't make enough examples of its new Fusion, it can barely make enough of the aging F-150, it's getting good brand rankings, people like its turnaround story, it's selling oodles of product and its quarterly profit numbers end in the word "billion." As other high-flying examples have demonstrated over the past few years, though, big numbers can come with problems that aren't exactly small.
Automotive News has published a good "nutshell" report of Ford's progress and problems. The Dearborn automaker's optimistic "general label rule" determination of gas mileage for the C-Max Hybrid has led to lawsuits, hybrid software updates, a downward revision of C-Max fuel economy and millions in rebates. AN notes the C-Max was the "worst-scoring model in this year's J.D. Power Initial Quality Study," but Ford will probably be happy that it managed not to be mentioned further in the study's results after last year's mediocre showing. Its MyTouch and SYNC systems, the bugbears sabotaging Ford's J.D. Power results, have also led to lawsuits, software updates, more software updates and a center console rethink. On top of that, the 1.6-liter EcoBoost in the 2013 Ford Escape that Ford called a "hero" was soon catching fire for three different reasons. And let's not even get into the troubled launch of the Lincoln MKZ.
The Automotive News piece notes that industry observers have been surprised at Ford's stumbles because everything has been looking so good. Nevertheless, there is still the issue of those billions in profits - the company is doing plenty of things, plural, right. Ford says it is tackling its problems, hiring engineers and instituting new quality control processes as part of its effort to find solutions. The test will be to see if in a year from now we begin the discussion of these issues with "Remember when Ford...", or "Problems continue at The Blue Oval."