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Greater LA Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Jim Farley is confident Ford Motor Co. can go toe-to- toe in the B-car segment with market-leader Toyota Motor Corp., his former employer.

“From an efficiency and product-development standpoint, absolutely,” Ford’s newly appointed group vice president-marketing and communications tells Ward’s at the auto show here.

The U.S. auto maker already is demonstrating its prowess in Europe, Farley says. “Ford’s got almost a 10% (market) share and a very vibrant company in Europe. I worked for Toyota of Europe for a lot of years, and that’s made a lot of progress, but it’s not a 10% player.”

Ford’s leadership in European small cars could transfer to the U.S. However, Farley says it’s unusual for an auto maker to have such success in one part of the world and struggle in another, as is the case with Ford in its key North American market.

“We don’t have the same (customer) connection here,” he says. “It’s unusual because when you look at other competent small-car companies like Honda (Motor Co. Ltd.) and Toyota, there is consistency.”

Ford’s upcoming B-car, to be co-developed with partner Mazda Motor Corp., will be key in delivering the message that Ford can compete in the growing small-car market, Farley says.

Ironically, introducing the B-car in the U.S. will be similar to the challenge Toyota faced when launching its Tundra fullsize pickup. “It’s a different product in a different segment and a different customer,” he says.

Correctly marketing the B-car in the U.S. will be of the utmost importance, as the reputation for small cars isn’t there. “How do we connect with customers that are disconnected with us? It’s a big challenge, probably my biggest and most exciting,” he says.

When asked whom Ford will target with its B-car, he quips “everyone.”

Farley, 45, is just days into his tenure at Ford after spending 17 years at Toyota, where he oversaw the launch of the Scion youth brand and headed marketing for the Toyota brand.

Today, he is charged with changing consumers’ perception of Ford, especially in the U.S.

“Metaphorically, the Ford brand is a bit of a secret right now in North America in the sense that there is a lot of affinity for Ford,” Farley says. “People have a very emotional connection to Ford because of its history and ability to create iconic products consistently. I think it’s time to unleash that affinity.”

Farley buys into Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally’s concept of one Ford, noting his new boss is the most single-minded individual he’s ever met when it comes to focusing on turning around a company.

Farley believes Ford has a strong portfolio, and contrary to the beliefs of automotive pundits who say the Mercury brand should be jettisoned, he says there is room for all of the auto maker’s North American brands.

“For our market share size, three distinct brands is the right balance, and there’s absolutely a place for Mercury,” he says.

Calling Lincoln “a bit of a secret,” Farley says it has potential that’s beginning to show in new products such as the Lincoln MKZ sedan, MKX cross/utility vehicle and the upcoming MKS flagship sedan, which was publicly unveiled at the show here this week.

Farley admits his new job is challenging, but says he would not have taken the position if he didn’t believe Ford’s fortunes could be turned around.

“I think U.S. customers really have a special place in their hearts for Ford,” he says, “and that will help us.”

bpope@wardsauto.com