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CEO: Changes on track at Ford

Stockholders received reassurances from the automaker's new chief.

WILMINGTON - Ford Motor Co. president and chief executive officer Alan Mulally reassured shareholders yesterday that the automaker's turnaround plan was on track and that it was investing in environmentally friendly technologies amid concerns about climate change.

Mulally, making his first appearance before company shareholders, said Ford was taking "painful but necessary steps" to streamline costs and bring more accountability with the goal of building "more of the products that people really want and value."

"We are moving quickly and making real progress, but it's going to take time to turn things around," Mulally said. He promised "clearly stated goals and candid assessments of our progress based on facts."

With several shareholders asking Ford to take a more active role to guard against global warming, Mulally said the company was committed to making environmentally friendly vehicles that "protect their passengers and our planet."

Shareholders overwhelmingly reelected the Dearborn, Mich., company's 12 directors and rejected eight ballot proposals, including measures on global warming, health care, and a plan to give one vote to each share of outstanding stock.

Descendants of Henry Ford, who make up 40 percent of the combined voting power of all outstanding family stock, are allowed 16 votes each, while other shares get one vote apiece.

Some shareholders voiced their displeasure with the company's leadership, including one of Henry Ford's descendants, Bill Ford Jr., the executive chairman.

Bill Ford, who recruited Mulally last year, was scolded by two shareholders who opposed his reelection to the board and accused him of wrecking the company.

"Bill Ford is Toyota's No. 1 reason for success. Ford is in utter chaos," said Linda Joanette of Clarkston, Mich.

Bill Ford responded by saying that the management team was dedicated to turning the company around and that Mulally was the best person to lead it through its restructuring.

The company lost $12.6 billion in 2006, the largest loss in its 103-year history, and its sales have declined nearly 13 percent this year against the backdrop of a slowing economy, sluggish housing market, and a shift from larger vehicles because of rising gasoline prices.

The nation's No. 2 automaker has mortgaged its factories, brand names and other items to secure a $23.4 billion line of credit to pay for the restructuring plan and cover losses.

Mulally, a former Boeing Co. executive, has pressed for more discipline as Ford undergoes a restructuring that will significantly reduce its workforce and shutter 16 facilities by 2012.

Mulally told 79 shareholders in attendance that the company was committed to returning its North American operation to profitability no later than 2009. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he said Ford was on track to have a 14 percent to 15 percent share of the domestic market. It is about 10.5 percent now.