- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

In the cyclical history of the automobile manufacturing industry, an industry filled with peaks and valleys, with success and failure and with complexity far beyond our ordinary understanding, the one thing that always comes to the forefront is product. Product and still more product.

In an industry that today boasts maybe 100 real producers of automobiles and has seen 10,000 come and go over the last 110 years, the fight for profitability and share is the ability to capture the hearts and minds of the consumer. And consumers today want choice, choice and still more choice.

One vehicle manufacturer or another is always falling out of favor with the public. Several years ago it was Nissan. Old and product starved — it was ready to cave in. Then came the Nissan 180 — revitalization plan. Today Nissan is one of the darlings of the industry. Buoyed by lots of new and exciting product Nissan has become a more efficient, lean company with its new products leading it to a bright future.

Now Ford is in the midst of a revitalization plan — trying to recover from a $5 billion loss a couple of years ago. The fact that Ford has the best-selling vehicle in the world, the F-150 pickup and the best-selling SUV, the Explorer, notwithstanding, its other products or lack of products and poor business practices put the 100-year-old company in a real bind.

Aside from a definitive plan for cutting costs, the truth is that Ford must rely on new product in order to pull itself up by its bootstraps and find success, as Nissan has.

To that end Ford has announced that in the North American market it will introduce 65 new products over the next five years, and in Europe it will be 45 new products in that time frame or sooner. Premier Automotive Group (Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo) will have 35 new products and Mazda will present 15 new products.

That ambitious plan, and nothing less will do, has had an impact on Ford’s leadership team. J Mays, Ford’s gregarious and out-front head of design noted for his role in “retrofuturism” as a design form, has been elevated to group vice president of design, in charge of what Ford Motor Co. products will look like worldwide.

Mr. Mays, who had been a vice president reporting to Richard Parry-Jones, group vice president for product development, will now report directly to Ford Motor Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Nick Scheele.

Mr. Mays has had a strong hand in Ford’s design direction by overseeing the development of Ford’s most important product, the new F-150 debuting this fall and Ford’s halo GT super sports car.

Mr. Mays’ design cues can easily be found in such upcoming vehicles as the Ford Five Hundred and the Mercury Montego, and in other products such as the Futura (Taurus replacement), Freestyle (Five Hundred-based crossover) and the newly planned Mustang.

Mr. Mays himself says: “Our revitalization is all about product.” The look and emotional feel of that product better be right — as it now falls to him to provide the vision Ford needs.

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