Although already substantial global players, the automakers want their brand houses in order to tap emerging markets in the Pacific Rim and South America. Projections are the North American market won't grow as fast as those two regions.
Neither Ford nor GM has revealed its global brand strategies yet. But both have talked about standardizing processes worldwide. And the changes could span everything from the assembly plant to the ad agency.
The two U.S. auto leaders want to reduce the number of chassis they use internationally to lower manufacturing costs. However, they have said their cars and trucks, though built on the same chassis, will be "packaged" differently in various countries-by interior/exterior trim levels or engines, for example.
Ford wants to determine "what we stand for worldwide, so we can deliver on that [brand] promise," said Robert Rewey, group VP-sales and marketing.
Consumers today "react to the cars and trucks on the road, so it's a product-driven image," he said.
Ford took a major step in November by shifting its estimated $40 million U.S. corporate ad account to Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Detroit, from Wells Rich Greene BDDP, Dearborn, Mich. O&M's mission: develop Ford's first corporate global branding strategy.
LOST IN THE TRANSLATION
Mr. Rewey said final proposals on that strategy should be ready in March. Ford's corporate U.S. "Quality is job one" tagline "doesn't [translate] in some languages," he noted.
Auto consultant Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates, predicted global branding would be easier for Ford than GM because Ford's blue oval is on every vehicle it sells overseas (Ford doesn't sell Lincoln or Mercury models abroad). GM, on the other hand, sells under various nameplates, including Opel and Vauxhall.
"When I think of a global [car] brand, I think of BMW," Ms. Jacobs said. "BMW is the best at it because it stands for the same thing in every country. They've been able to do that because of the narrow definition of their audience."
She noted that when BMW wanted to be a broader global player, it acquired Rover Group rather than dilute its name.
Ford's Mr. Rewey conceded that global branding is probably easier for niche automakers. But, he added, big players like Ford can adapt by having the same structure and processes worldwide.
When Ford started its common global branding process in June, he said, the carmaker developed a worldwide manual, which will be continuously upgraded. It contains common definitions, processes and training for staff worldwide.
Ford recently started using a global market analysis to commonize research and make it less fragmented.
The global emphasis created the need for a new position; in September, Ford hired James Schroer to be executive director of the marketing strategy and brand management office. The former Booz, Allen & Hamilton executive will develop Ford's global marketing and brand strategies.
"He's sort of the steward of our global brand management training process," Mr. Rewey said.
At GM, "We've done all our process changes [for global branding]; now we have to execute," said Ronald Zarrella, group VP-sales, service and marketing of GM's North American Operations.
Although he didn't offer details, Mr. Zarrella said that "successful global brands are managed right from the start," including design, engineering, manufacturing and marketing.
GM is also studying its distribution methods as a way to manage its brands globally.
The No. 1 automaker is expected to tout Cadillac as a U.S. luxury standard when it gives the brand a major international push in the 1998 model year. More consumer interest outside the U.S. would help Cadillac reverse declining sales, which it is addressing on its home turf by wooing younger buyers.
"We've got to get Cadillac back to the standard of the world, and we can do that," Mr. Zarrella said.
The 1998 Cadillac Seville, which will debut at the Tokyo Auto Show, is sized smaller for the international market. And for the first time, it will be equipped with right-hand drive.
GM won't have global brand managers, Mr. Zarrella said.
For example, Seville's new U.S. brand manager, Ed Berger, will work with GM's overseas marketing staff to ensure a consistent brand image.
Ford will have a similar global setup for its leading U.S. vehicles. The U.S. brand manager of the hot-selling F-Series pickup, "Tough" Brand Manager Paul Morel, will be the "primary brand manager" for the product globally, Mr. Rewey said.
Ford has brand managers assigned to vehicles in some 25 countries. Its U.S. brand managers are aligned by vehicle characteristic categories, like family or youthful.
GM wants the Cadillac Catera, just introduced in December in the U.S., to be a global player, with plans to sell the sedan in the Middle East and Mexico. The thrust of advertising may parallel U.S. ads from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich., touting it as a fun-to-drive luxury car, said Martin Walsh, marketing services manager for Cadillac.
ADS ADAPTED TO EACH NATION
But GM doesn't plan to sell the Catera in markets where GM already sells the Opel Omega, built in Germany on the same platform, or chassis.
Messrs. Zarrella and Rewey both said model advertising will vary by nation because of language and societal nuances.
Ford advertises the affordability of its Escort in the U.S., where the car is seen as entry level, Mr. Rewey said. But in India, where Ford launched the car last summer, Escort is viewed as a premium car.
"It's not unusual to see an Escort with a chauffeur there," Mr. Rewey said.