Ford's Focus on Change Paying Off in Marketplace

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

In times like these, it's downright heartwarming to see Ford's flame flickering in the darkness. In a U.S. auto industry on life support, the company is managing to improve quality, roll out convincing advertising, skillfully negotiate its public-relations opportunities and reap the rewards.

Of course, it's not all sunshine and lollipops in Dearborn. The company hasn't escaped a horrible year for the entire automotive sector. Last month, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury's U.S. sales plunged 48% to 96,044 units vs. February 2008.

But here's the good news for Ford Motor Co.: Through January, its retail-market share had risen for four consecutive months for the first time in 14 years. In the first two months of the year, the number of qualified buyers who planned to buy a Ford jumped 16% from 2008, according to data from CNW Market Research. Qualified buyers who intended to buy GM fell 12% and Chrysler 33%.

There are a number of things at play here. Firstly, Ford started delivering on that old tagline, "Quality is job one." According to a number of surveys, the company has reached quality parity with imports -- no small feat for an industry that too often relied on playing to patriotism while it struggled to catch up to foreign competition. Given something tangible to brag about, the company has. Out went desperate ads promising thousands of dollars in incentives, in are ads making solid claims that consumers apparently find believable.

There is one glaring difference between Ford and its U.S. counterparts: It hasn't gone hat in hand to D.C. to ask for government money. Americans aren't smiling on companies who've gotten themselves in a position that requires rescuing by the taxpayers.

We wondered if some within Ford were sorely tempted to trumpet its more-solid financial position in ads to drive another nail into the coffin. Ford said no, figuring its funding is better spent on brand building. Besides, CNW found that 93% of Americans already know Ford is not dependent on government funds. Of course, there's also the possibility that Ford could be forced in that direction at a later date.

"Times like these can provide opportunities," said Ford's Ken Czubay, VP-sales and marketing. "We are doing fine from a conquest standpoint."

That might not be good news for Ford's competition. But it's good news. So we'll take it.

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