“You’re seeing some of the luxury brands actually pushing even earlier now for what used to start Dec. 1,” Fields told reporters yesterday as the automaker celebrated the opening of a new design studio for its Lincoln premium brand near its Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters. “We’re seeing more activity there.”
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) is shifting allocation of thousands of its cars to the U.S. and Asia this year and offering lease customers the chance to skip payments on their current vehicles to buy new models as it loses ground to fellow German automaker Daimler AG. (DAI) Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz brand has delivered 5,221 more vehicles this year through September after trailing BMW last year.
Ford faces what Fields called a “daunting task” in rebuilding Lincoln, which has fallen behind BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s Audi in the U.S. and globally. A successful luxury brand “is essential for us to be a global and successful enterprise,” he said.
Fields declined to comment on whether Ford’s board is preparing to promote him to chief operating officer as part of a plan to have him eventually succeed Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally. The promotion is expected this year, one person familiar with the situation has said.
“I am very focused on just contributing as much as I can to the profitable growth of Ford,” Fields, 51, told reporters yesterday. “I’m just doing my job.”
Mulally, 67, is acclaimed for saving Ford without a federal bailout or bankruptcy. He hasn’t made it clear to the board when he plans to retire, though his departure is expected around the end of 2013, said the person, who asked not to be named revealing board deliberations.
Rebuilding the Lincoln brand won’t “happen overnight,” Fields said. The brand’s 2012 U.S. sales fell 1.5 percent to 63,880 through September. Mercedes U.S. sales during the same period rose 13 percent to 191,618 while BMW’s gained 4.9 percent to 186,397. The figures exclude Daimler’s cargo vans and Smart cars and BMW’s Mini brand, which aren’t luxury vehicles.
“Our ambitions aren’t to be No. 1” in luxury sales with Lincoln, Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief and a former Toyota executive, told reporters yesterday. “We’d rather have people love us than everyone like us.”
Ford fell 2.4 percent to $10.18 at the close in New York.
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