- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Ford Motor Co.’s new president of the Americas on Wednesday aggressively promoted the brand’s U.S. identity and charged that foreign competitors were posturing as American.

“In terms of economic and social influence, there is no other company that’s had a greater impact on the lives of people in this country and in the 20th century than Ford,” Mark Fields said in a speech at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Mr. Fields said that “many brands want to be American” and he specifically pointed to Toyota Motor Corp. as “desperately trying to cast itself as an American brand.”

“Toyota is trying to be American because they realize the market potential is huge,” he said.

Mr. Fields’ comments came as Ford and other U.S. automakers are losing billions of dollars as well as U.S. market share to Toyota and other Asian carmakers.

Mr. Fields was named president of Ford’s Americas division in September and is developing a restructuring plan expected to include plant closings and job cuts that is scheduled to be announced on Jan. 23.

He was formerly executive vice president of Europe and the Premier Automotive Group, the London-based company that oversees sales, distribution and other services for Ford’s high-end brands such as Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover.

As Mr. Fields was talking to the audience in Los Angeles, Ford was reporting its sales dropped 4 percent in 2005 as consumer demand for trucks and sport utility vehicles fell in the face of high gas prices. General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet surpassed Ford as the best-selling brand in the U.S. market in 2005 for the first time in 19 years.

GM is the biggest U.S. automaker and Ford is second.

Responding to Mr. Fields’ remarks, Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said, “We view ourselves as the customers’ brand, nothing more and nothing less.”

Toyota has advertised its manufacturing in the United States “to make sure people are informed about the positive economic impact that we have here,” Mr. Michels said.

“In the end,” he added, “all automakers are international brands.”

Mr. Fields told the Los Angeles audience the days of the Big Three — GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group — were over and have been replaced by a “Big Six” in which everything is up for grabs.

Using such phrases as “red, white and bold” and “bold, American and innovative” to describe Ford’s new strategy, he said, “It’s time to play offense” to preserve Ford’s market share.

Mr. Fields said Ford’s strategy would include a new emphasis on crossover vehicles that include many of the comforts and conveniences of sport utility vehicles but handle more like cars than trucks and have better fuel economy than SUVs.

Mr. Fields described what he said was his company’s unique relationship with consumers, saying Ford had most success in the areas where it best knew its customers, including the market for the aggressive 550-horsepower V-8 Ford GT.

“Ford vehicles from the Model T to the Mustang are in our national consciousness,” he said.

Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research, a Bandon, Ore., auto research firm, said Mr. Field’s remarks reflect fears that foreign automakers will break into the full-sized truck market in the mountain states and Southeast, where loyalty to American trucks is high. Ford was particularly threatened by Toyota’s opening a truck plant in Texas because it could diminish customer loyalty there to American automakers, Mr. Spinella said.

The company is trying to hold onto its 45 percent share of the full-size pickup market, he said.

Foreign automakers “don’t have a very big slice of large trucks, but once they didn’t have a large slice of the car market either,” Mr. Spinella said.

In his remarks, Mr. Fields dismissed the “much-talked-about new competition” for Ford’s F-Series trucks without naming specific competitors.

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