Ford rides demand for fuel-efficient cars, small SUVs

Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, discusses the automaker’s new Escape crossover, the state of the auto industry and the company’s focus on fuel economy.

November 25, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

Ford Motor Co. has the bestselling vehicle in America — the F-series truck. But Ford’s new lineup of passenger cars and a small crossover are what Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, keeps talking about.

Ford unveiled a new generation Ford Escape at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, transforming a vehicle with a traditional sport utility body into a softer crossover. Fields talked about the new vehicle and the auto industry at the show, which runs through Sunday.

Why is the Escape important to Ford?

It is one of our highest volume vehicles [selling more than 200,000 units so far this year]. One out of every six vehicles in the industry sold today is a small SUV.… The nameplate has great consumer awareness, and we need to live up to those expectations.

How is the industry doing?

The retail portion of the auto industry has been incredibly stable with slight growth each quarter. We will continue to see that into 2012.

The car inventory out there right now is so old you could sign it up for the AARP. That means what we are seeing is just needs-buyers in the marketplace. It is people who have to replace their vehicle rather than the discretionary buyer. This is just replacement sales.

It is all about consumer confidence. People are looking at the economy, their income and their job security. We need to see the economy improve and give consumers confidence.

What do you do in this type of environment?

It is still about bringing out eye-catching world-class products. Next year is supercharged with product introductions. We will have our Escape but we will also have a brand new Fusion [a mid-sized sedan].

In California, about 40% of the market is small cars and small utilities. And if you look at our introductions, we have the new Fiesta [sub-compact], new Focus [compact], the Escape and now a new Fusion. We will have new vehicles in all the segments that matter in California.

What are people thinking when they go shopping for a new car?

Fuel economy is the No. 1 criteria for consumers these days. When we close out 2011, this will be the first year when every month national average gas prices will be above $3 a gallon. That’s why fuel economy will continue to dominate car choice. And that is why we have invested in fuel economy in every new Ford model.

When will we get a look at the new Fusion?

We are going to introduce it at the auto show in Detroit in January. It will cap off the whole redesign of our passenger car lineup.

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