Ford CEO wants to buck trend to longer auto loans

Ford Motor of Canada is concerned about consumer debt and will buck the trend toward longer-term financing for car buyers in Canada, says CEO Dianne Craig.

Dianne Craig says Ontario plant will make new Edge utility vehicle

Ford Canada CEO Dianne Craig on the Canadian market and auto loans 5:59

Ford Motor of Canada is concerned about the level of consumer debt and the growing habit of  longer-term financing for car buyers in Canada, says CEO Dianne Craig.

Craig was at the Canadian International Autoshow Thursday, to announce that its Oakville, Ont., plant will make the Edge utility vehicle, to be exported to 60 countries.

Craig has been head of the Canadian branch of the automaker since 2011 and said she’s learned the difference between Canadian and American car buyers in that period.

One of those differences is a push for longer-term financing in Canada, with more than half of buyers choosing a period of longer than six years, according to a recent report J.D. Power and Associates.

“We’re very focused on shortening that trade cycle for our customers,” Craig said in an interview with CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

“We know it’s in the best interests of the consumer to have a shorter trade cycle and some of our competitors have gone to longer-term financing, which we don’t think is great for the consumer. It’s not good for our industry,” she added.

Shorter repayment periods can mean consumers trade in vehicles more quickly for a newer model.

Edge on display

Craig was boasting an autoshow lineup that includes the Edge, the new vehicle to be built at the Ford plant in Oakville, as well as the Mustang and a lighter, more fuel-efficient version of the F-150 truck. The F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in Canada for the past four years.

Craig said the different profile of Canadian car buyers includes more smaller car sales, as well as a strong pickup segment.

“It is very different and that surprised me when I came to Canada. Certainly we see more C-car size [compact cars], which is the Focus vehicle, and we do really well in the pickup segment. That’s a big chunk of the industry as well,” she said.

Craig grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., just across the border from Canada and has been moving up the ranks at Ford since 1986.    She now lives in Oakville, Ont.

All of the North American automakers hit record sales figures in 2013 and Craig is predicting a similarly buoyant year in 2014.

Ford of Canada committed to a $700-million expansion of its plant in Oakville last September.

Defends government incentives

Craig defends the federal and provincial incentives — over $140 million — that led to that investment, saying Canada is competing with jurisdictions in Mexico and the U.S. willing to pony up as much as half the capital for any new manufacturing.

“This is about an industrial investment. Think about it as other industrial policies that the government may set, because at the end of the day, if the government doesn’t invest, it will go somewhere else and with it will go the 2,800 jobs and the one in 10 jobs in the supplier sector that is tied to auto jobs – it will go away,” she said.

One of the factors that played into the decision to remain in Oakville was the efficiency of that plant, as well as a good relationship with Unifor, the autoworkers union.

“It would never have been in consideration if we didn’t have efficiency in the productivity that we have,” she said.