Faltering Ford charts new recovery path

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff writer

Struggling to gain a foothold in Japan, senior officials of Ford Motor’s Japanese subsidiary next week will begin visiting affiliated auto dealers across the country.

The purpose? To discuss a proposed road map to reverse the tide of dwindling sales, which have shown few signs of recovery.

“Ford, which retains 14 percent of the global market share, holds only less than 1 percent in the Japanese market,” said Eiji Iwakuni, president of Ford Motor Co. (Japan) in a recent meeting with reporters. “This reality is too awful.”

Sales of imported Fords through September this year dwindled to 6,489 units amid Japan’s economic slump, only 52.8 percent of the figure from the corresponding period of the previous year, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association.

The world’s second-largest automaker ranked 11th in Japan’s imported car market as of the end of September with a 3.12 percent share, according to the association.On Oct. 5, Iwakuni, who took the post in April after leaving a senior position at Honda, called a meeting in Yokohama of about 500 representatives from Ford-affiliated auto dealers across the country.

During the meeting, he explained the current severe situation surrounding Ford in Japan, the planned regrouping and renovation of dealers and a road map to introduce new strategic cars to regain its share in the Japanese market next year.

“Facing the difficult situation, I recognize (now) is the time to rework middle and long-term strategies,” he said.

According to Hiroo Tanabe, director of external affairs at the Japanese subsidiary of Ford, one serious problem confronting Ford in Japan is its inability to compete in all price ranges and displacement sizes that suit Japanese consumers.

Iwakuni said that he will eliminate some vehicles from the Japanese market within a few years and Ford is now carefully preparing the introduction of two strategic cars for the Japanese market.One of the these is the Ka, a 1.3-liter compact that has proved to be a big hit in Europe with a stylishly unique body design.

Since it was introduced there in 1996, more than 500,000 units have been sold. Iwakuni called Ka, to be introduced in Japan come spring, as a “touchstone” for the Japanese market.

The other strategic car is a smaller version of the Lincoln, the prototype of which was recently unveiled at an auto show in New York. Ford is now nervously checking and adjusting the two cars for the Japanese market, where, Ford officials note, consumers are very selective about quality and finish.

For the first time, Ford has assembled a team, directly under top officials at its head office in Michigan, to tailor the Lincoln to the Japanese market. “(The head office of Ford) is finally getting serious about the Japanese market,” Iwakuni said.

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