TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The U.S. auto industry is vastly different from Europe and Asia, Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co. president-The Americas, says at the annual Management Briefing Seminars here.

Fields, who has spent the majority of his career abroad, says there is “a lack of strong manufacturing policy” in the Western world, adding the “rising cost of regulations and social issues have resulted in a steady exodus of auto jobs from the longtime players, including Ford.”

Asians view their domestic auto industry as “strategically important,” and they “root them on to success,” says the former chief of Mazda Motor Corp., adding he is amazed by the amount of negativity that emanates from the U.S. public and the media regarding the domestic auto industry.

“This dismal portrayal of Detroit and the cynicism we sometimes have for the home team is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Fields says.

Ford is not looking for handouts or a “free ride,” he says, suggesting an “attitude adjustment” is needed in perceiving the domestic auto industry.

“The health of the U.S. auto industry needs to be important to everyone, even if you don’t work for a U.S. company or drive an American car,” he says.

“When it comes to new plants and technology, Ford, General Motors (Corp.) and DaimlerChrysler (AG)., combined, have invested nearly $39 billion in America over the past four years,” Fields says. “That’s more than all the transplant auto makers have invested here during the past 25 years combined.”

Fields says Ford recognizes the changing automotive landscape and the industry segmentation taking place as a result of escalating gasoline prices. During his tenure at Mazda, he saw a similar pattern, and despite criticism, the auto maker’s much-maligned North American Way Forward restructuring strategy is on track.

“At Mazda, after we announced the Millennium turnaround plan, we saw the same headlines and the same skepticism that we’re seeing today,” he says. “In fact, it took 12 to 18 months before outsiders began to appreciate the dramatic results we were achieving inside.”

bpope@wardsauto.com