DEARBORN, MI – Good products and steering clear of bankruptcy have been equally important in boosting Ford Motor Co.’s image among consumers, the auto maker’s top marketer says.

“The goodwill for the company grew when we decided that we didn’t need (government) help,” says Jim Farley, group vice president of global marketing and Canada, Mexico and South America operations. “There were a lot more people paying attention to Ford.”

But product, too, has played a role in Ford’s resurgence.

Consumers “are not going to shop your brand because you’re running your company professionally,” he says at a media event here. “But they may go on a website or ask a friend who owns a Ford, or they may go to an auto show and check out the products.

“I think the combination is what’s been working for us so far,” Farley says of the auto maker’s products and financial autonomy. “One without the other isn’t enough.”

Ford’s improved public image is paying dividends in the showroom. Even in the middle of a recession, Ford has managed to eke out U.S. market share gains in 12 of the last 13 months. The auto maker closed October controlling slightly more than 15% of the market.

Against this backdrop, Ford stock hit a 2-year high this week at $9.14 and billionaire investor George Soros bought a 7.2 million-share stake in the auto maker. In addition, the Ford Fusion has been named car of the year and six Ford products now are listed as top safety picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Farley says consumer perception of Ford has changed so dramatically the auto maker no longer groups itself with its Detroit brethren. General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC took government loans while Ford has not.

“Ford’s brand value, when you look at the metrics, it’s really somewhere in the Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen world and no longer in the domestic world,” he says. “And that’s a new place for us in the U.S.”

Farley says marketing strategies in the U.S. have changed dramatically over the last year, influenced by a general public mistrust of big companies.

“After Lehman Brothers and the financial meltdown and Bernie Madoff and the whole thing, trust around big companies is at its all-time low; it’s never been lower,” he says, noting customers now are searching for third parties to weigh in on a company’s products.

“I’ve never seen so many companies talking about their reputation as a company, how they run their business,” Farley says.

Web-based advertising also has grown in importance, he says, noting a Yahoo or Google page sponsorship now gets “more eyeballs than a network TV commercial in primetime. That hasn’t happened before.”