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Staff writer

MAKUHARI, Chiba Pref. — After struggling for several years in Japan, Ford Motor Co. plans to turn its strategy around and claim a bigger chunk of the world’s second-largest auto market, said Henry Wallace, Ford’s group vice president for the Asia-Pacific region.

Under its new strategy, Ford plans to focus on “dankai junior,” baby-boomer offspring aged between 25 and 28 who tend to have a good image of America.

“We are just changing our strategy to really focus the Ford brand toward people who want to share a little bit of (the) American experience,” said Wallace, who will become chief financial officer of the world’s No. 2 automaker in January.

While focusing on younger customers, Ford intends to present a sharper brand image to Japanese consumers because it believes many of them confuse its products with those of subsidiary Mazda Motor Corp.

“I don’t think we did a very good job, because we tried to build a strategy to sell vehicles which are mildly differentiated from (the products of) Mazda as Ford,” said Wallace, who served as Mazda’s president between June 1996 and November 1997.

While Ford sells Mazda-manufactured products under its own brand — a common practice in the automotive industry — Mazda sells the same products with a Mazda label.

However, Mazda, which formed a capital tieup with Ford in 1979, has a bigger presence in the Japanese market. As the country’s fifth-largest automaker, it weakened the product image of its American parent.

To establish a stronger brand image, Ford will discontinue selling vehicles from Mazda by 2003.

Ford has several new models on the drawing board for launch in Japan, and they are being designed to convey the real flavor of the world’s second-largest automaker, Wallace said.

Next spring, Ford will introduce the Focus wagon and hatchback, and a new sport utility vehicle. Both will be targeted at younger drivers.

The SUV, planned for launch around the third quarter of 2000, will be produced on a shared platform with Mazda, and will be made at home and overseas — at Mazda’s Hofu factory in Yamaguchi Prefecture and a Ford plant in the United States.

Including Mazda-made products, Ford expects to sell 20,000 to 25,000 units next year in Japan, Wallace said.

The Asia-Pacific market, however, continues to be a weak spot.

“The place where we have the lowest share is the Asian region,” Wallace said. “So we’ve got a job to do about the presence in Asia to balance our regional stress.”

Ford has more than a 20 percent market share in North America and 11 percent in Europe, and the situation in Latin America is probably similar to that in Europe.

In contrast to General Motors Corp., the world’s largest automaker, Ford will take a market-oriented approach, Wallace said.

“Our strategy is to basically put products into the markets that we think are right for those markets. We don’t have a plan that this car is an Asian car,” Wallace said.

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