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Ford profits way up in North America, way down in Europe

Ford Motor Company's third quarter profit in North America was its biggest since at least 2000.

But the company's financial performance was dragged down by Europe, where a protracted recession has cripped car sales.

Ford lost $468 million in that region.

The company has a turnaround plan for Europe, and it's very similar to what Ford did to recover in North America:  decisive downsizing, including closing plants, while at the same time investing heavily in future products.

Ford plans to close a factory in Belgium, and two in the U.K. , while introducing 15 new vehicles in Europe in the next five years.  Ford will reduce its European workforce, including salaried workers, by 13%.

Bob Shanks is the company's Chief Financial Officer.  He says the plan will take time.

"You go back and look at North America," he said in an interview with Michigan Radio,  "we started working on that recovery in late '05 - and it wasn't until 2010 that it turned a profit."

Other good news in the third quarter - Ford achieved a record market share in China. 

While still a very small player in China, Ford executives are eager to take advantage of growing sales in what's now the world's largest car market.  Ford is way behind GM in China; GM and Volkswagon are the two largest car companies operating in China.

Ford recently built a new factory in China, which is building the company's global small car, the Focus.

Shanks says that one car is the main reason for Ford's market share increase in China.

"We sold more Focuses in Asia-Pacific-Africa (region) than we did in North America or in Europe," he notes.

Ford was hit with some bad news on Monday.  The company's ranking in an annual reliability survey by Consumer Reports plummeted.  It fell to next to last in reliability, following problems with new vehicle launches, and persistent problems with the MyFordTouch infotainment system. 

Ford has introduced the troubled system in more and more of its vehicles - giving more and more of its customers reason to complain about the system's complexity and perplexity. 

Shanks says the poor showing in the survey is a concern. 

"We have upgraded the (MyFordTouch) system," he says, "and we have gotten very positive feedback from the upgrade, but we certainly have a lot of work to do."

Ford's shares neither rose nor fell on the earnings report - for the reason that the U.S. stock market is closed, due to Hurricane Sandy.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.