Bill Osborne, President and CEO of Ford of Canada
Bill Osborne, President and CEO of Ford of Canada; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

Bill Osborne has been President and CEO of Ford of Canada since November 2005, an 14-month tenure that, at first glance, makes him look like the new kid on the block. But Osborne’s been around Ford for much longer than that: he joined the company in 1990 and has worked in a variety of positions.

These days, though, his purview includes overseeing Ford’s 13,000 corporate employees working out of a national headquarters, three regional offices, two branch offices, five vehicle assembly and engine plants, two parts distribution centres and affiliates like Ford Credit, as well as Premier Automotive Group brands Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover.

Considering that Canada is Ford's fourth-largest market worldwide, it's safe to say Osborne has a lot on his plate, but he graciously took a few minutes to talk to us at the recent Detroit auto show about his company: where Ford is now, and where the automaker plans to be in the future.

There's little doubt that the F-series pickup line is Ford's most recognizable product, and has been the company's best-selling vehicle for many years. The full-size pickup market is also perhaps the one segment where Ford has consistently dominated the market in terms of sales and quality, but that dominance is under attack with the arrival of the all-new Toyota Tundra. Osborne says that while he's sure the new Tundra will be a strong player in the segment, he's not worried about Toyota usurping Ford's place of power in pickup trucks, thanks to a constant stream of improvements and upgrades planned for the F-series.

"Our goal with the F-series is not to stand still," said Osborne. "The Tundra will be a worthy competitor, but the next F-series will leapfrog it in terms of innovations and utility. Toyota is shooting at a moving target."

At the other end of Ford's product range, Ford debuted a redesigned Focus at the 2007 Detroit auto show. But despite the new look, the car is still based on the same platform the original 2000 Focus rode on when it went on sale nearly eight years ago. In the meantime, Europe has had a second-generation Focus - based on the excellent C1 platform that underpins the Mazda3 and Volvo S40/V50 - since 2005.

Ford has been widely criticized for opting out of the C1 platform for the North American Focus, but Osborne says the decision to leave our Focus as is had more to do with North American crash regulations than anything else.

He says many past Ford products were global models designed regionally but that a new "global product development organization" within Ford will change that. Under the leadership of recently appointed Global Product Development chief Derek Kuzak - Ford's former Vice-President of Product Development in Europe - many future models will be conceived and designed in Dearborn for sale in both North American and overseas markets.

When asked if there's a particular Ford vehicle that he feels defines the company, Osborne names not one, but two. First, the new F-series Super Duty pickup, a truck he says was designed to "maintain Ford's leadership" in the truck segment. The other is the Ford Edge and its Lincoln counterpart, the MKX.

"The Edge represents the modern interpretation of the crossover segment and is a clear leader in the class," he says. "The crossover segment hasn't been clearly defined yet, but we're very excited about the Edge, because it has what it takes to do just that and give this new segment a clear direction for the future."

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