Closer relationships with dealer and consumer customers are a key goal of Ford Credit's new chairman and CEO, Don Winkler, former chief of the Finance One subsidiary of Bank One Corp.

Mr. Winkler, 51, switched from Bank One to Ford Credit after Philippe Paillart unexpectedly gave up the Ford post to pursue an assignment.

Mr. Paillart's resignation was announced by Ford President and CEO Jacques A. Nasser, who said the 48-year-old former Renault finance executive was making the move because Ford had decided to concentrate on auto sales-related functions, rather than general finance.

Mr. Winkler says, "After 6-1/2 years with Bank One I decided it was right to accept a position at the top of the largest auto financing organization and one that was going to focus more closely on Ford dealers and 9 million retail customers.

"We know this is a cyclical industry and, if a downturn takes place, this may not be the best time to come in. But we will be trying to use fee-based products and services to strengthen our financial position."

Another initiative facing Mr. Winkler is merging Ford Credit with Mazda Credit. He is a linguistic expert who learned conversational Italian and Greek while working for overseas for Citibank. He worked for that bank for 17 years before joining Bank One.

Over his relatively brief 13-month stint with Ford Credit, Mr. Paillart took key roles in establishing an auto insurance sales program with Hartford Financial Services and purchasing sub-prime lender Triad Financial and service-contract provider Automobile Protection Corp.