July 22, 2008

Ford Aims for Fuel Economy Leadership Amid Falling Sales

By Sarah A. Webster, Detroit Free Press

Jul. 22--RICHMOND, Ind. -- Ford Motor Co.'s president of the Americas, Mark Fields, on Tuesday painted a grim picture of the U.S. auto market and said that Ford would be dedicated to making its future vehicles "meet or beat the competition in fuel economy" in the face of a struggling economy and $4-a-gallon gasoline, which has consumers seeking out affordable, fuel-efficient models.

Fields also noted that July auto sales have been no better than they were in June, when they plummeted 18% industrywide. Auto sales in the first half of the year were the worst in the United States in 15 years, declining 10%. Ford's sales fell 14%, with profitable truck sales taking a disproportionate amount of the hit.

When asked when Ford thought the economy might bottom out or rebound, he did not have an answer.

"We don't know," said Fields, who made his remarks at a centennial celebration for the Model T, which has attracted thousands of Model T owners and fans to a sprawling field in Wayne County, Ind.

Company founder Henry Ford started building the Model T in 1908, and the vehicle helped establish Ford Motor Co. and revolutionize modern society.

Fields told a crowd of attendees and journalists that Ford would be rolling out its EcoBoost technology, which uses gasoline injection and turbocharging to improve the efficiency of a regular gasoline engine.

Ford is planning to sell 500,000 engines with the new technology annually within four years, company spokesman Said Deep said.

Fields said that Ford's new objectives to focus on small cars and environmentally friendly technologies were consistent with the principles of Henry Ford and his Model T, which was capable of running on ethanol and regular gasoline.

Fields declined to answer questions about Ford's latest restructuring plan, which is slated to be released on Thursday, when Ford reports its second-quarter earnings.

When asked about reports that Ford might be launching a new plan for Mercury, the company's long-ailing premium brand, which is positioned between the mainstream Ford and luxury Lincoln nameplates, Fields defended the brand for attracting customers that are not lured by the Ford name.

Through June, Mercury sales were down 24% compared to the same period a year ago. Customers bought 72,595 Mercury vehicles through March.

Contact Sarah A. Webster at (313)222-5394 or [email protected]


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