Ford Motor Co. marketing chief Jim Farley has a busy year ahead, with the launch of major products such as the Ford Escape and the revamp of the luxury Lincoln brand. And as the new Ford Fusion was debuting at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the new Ford EcoSport, a compact SUV for developing markets, was unveiled in New Delhi. Both will go on sale later this year.
The company is accelerating its plan to make global products instead of producing different cars for each market, Farley said Wednesday at the Automotive News World Congress, an industry conference held during the auto show in Detroit. Farley says 85 percent of Ford's products will be built on just nine basic platforms by 2013. That's a year earlier than its original plan. It's also a major change from five years ago, when just 29 percent of Ford's volume was built on shared platforms.
In North America, Farley is also tasked with reinventing the Lincoln brand, which was the top luxury brand in the U.S. 15 years ago but has fallen to last place after years of neglect. Ford debuted the new Lincoln MKZ midsize sedan at the auto show, and will try to create a new image for Lincoln with advertising and spruced-up dealerships. It's a challenge Farley relishes.
"It will take all of our energy to get Lincoln back," he said.
Farley talked about new products, gas prices and even Ford's crosstown rival, General Motors Co., at the conference Wednesday. Here are three questions and his answers:
_Countries like India, Brazil and China are seeing big growth in auto sales. Will the U.S. become a has-been?
"No. The United States has never been more vibrant. Detroit is back. Walking around the auto show, I haven't felt this vibrancy in our industry in a long time. What's really exciting is that there's now equal footing among all the brands, and the customer is going to have a lot of great choice. The fundamental difference about the U.S. is that it's a healthy industry. The capacity and the demand are aligned. The customers are expecting more around fuel economy, they're open to new technologies, and because of all that, and the pricing environment, and the fact that we have a healthy industry without too much overcapacity, I think we're entering a golden time for us. The industries like Brazil and India are excited because of their growth, but everyone's adding capacity, too, so the question is, are they adding too much capacity? And what will be the impact on pricing in those markets because of it?"
_At what point do gas prices affect what people buy?
"What we've learned over the last two years in the U.S. is that it's not the price, it is the rate of change in the price. If the slope of the curve changes dramatically, segments and choices change dramatically. If the slope is gradual, say 10 cents a quarter, customers adjust. But when it changes dramatically like it did in the summer of '08, that's when people change. The one thing that has really changed is that every American now knows that it just takes one day _ one natural disaster, one war _ and tomorrow could be very different from today in terms of the gas price. And because of that, because of those shocks, customers are now more interested in fuel economy than they were a couple of years ago."
_What do you think of General Motors?
"It's fantastic to see the progress they've made as a competitor, what they've done with the Cruze and other key products is great to see. We see our company, our brand and our products as very different. But we're really happy that their products are well-received by customers. They're a great competitor."