At Ford, E Commerce Is Job 1

No other manufacturer is pushing so boldly onto the Web

The Rust Belt is approaching Net-speed. It was just last June, when a Ford Motor Co. task force made a presentation to Chief Executive Jacques A. Nasser and his top managers. Originally assigned to study how the Internet could improve manufacturing, the team had gone all out, showing Nasser a computer simulation of the auto company of the future. The vision was breathtaking: factories that built cars to order, dealerships that reported problems instantly so that plants could make adjustments, and suppliers that controlled inventories at Ford factories--much the way retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. does when it gives vendors responsibility for stocking its store shelves. "We were mesmerized," says Alice Miles, a veteran Ford purchasing manager. Nasser gave it an instant thumb's-up. "This is nothing short of reinventing the auto industry," he says.

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