Ford Names U.S. Sales Chief as Toyota Tests Market Place

Ford Motor Co., the second-biggest U.S. automaker, named a new U.S. sales chief whose challenge will be to maintain a sales lead over Toyota Motor Corp. and its growing willingness to discount cars such as the Camry.

Ken Czubay, 64, the current U.S. sales chief, is retiring, effective Nov. 1. He will be replaced by John Felice, 51, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said today in a statement. Ford also named Barb Samardzich, 54, chief operating officer in Europe, where she now heads product development.

Demand for F-Series pickups, the new Fusion family car and Escape sport utility vehicle has paced Ford as it’s gained more market share than any other major automaker in the U.S. this year. New models that analysts expect for 2014 will be crucial to maintaining those gains after Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, has outsold Ford in the U.S. the past two months and vowed to protect its Camry sedan with heftier incentives.

“Ford has two huge new products coming next year: the Mustang and the F-150,” Alan Baum, an independent auto analyst in West Bloomfield, Michigan, said by telephone. “They obviously want to keep their momentum going. They’re also going to have more Fusions, and that will be a marketing challenge to keep the transaction prices high as volume goes up.”

Ford captured 16 percent of U.S. light-vehicle deliveries through August, up from 15.6 percent a year earlier. While Toyota’s market share was little changed at 14.4 percent, the Toyota City, Japan-based company outsold Ford by 314 cars and light trucks in July and more than 11,000 in August.

Protecting Camry

Toyota plans to protect the Camry sedan’s position as the top-selling U.S. car, Bob Carter, senior vice president of the carmaker’s U.S. sales unit, said last week during an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit.

“The mid-size sedan market is the largest segment in the industry and we want Toyota to continue to be America’s favorite car, period,” he said.

While Toyota has trimmed incentives 1.8 percent this year through August, its car discounts increased by 18 percent, according to an analysis by researcher Autodata Corp.

The U.S. is Ford’s strongest market while its money-losing European operations are one of Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s biggest challenges. It’s trying to replicate the turnaround plan followed at home to return to profitability in Europe by 2015.

Europe’s Drag

Ford has reported five straight months of market share increases, driven by B-Max, Kuga and Transit Custom models. The company in July narrowed its 2013 loss forecast for Europe to about $1.8 billion from $2 billion. Stephen Odell, Ford’s European head, said this week in Germany the unit will turn a profit in 2015. He was the unit’s COO for six months before becoming CEO of Volvo Cars, which Ford owned at the time.

“Europe is dragging down the company from a financial standpoint,” Baum said. “Barb is somebody Ford thinks very highly of, and they want to bring her talents to bear on a very difficult problem.”

Samardzich will be succeeded in her Europe product development role by Joe Bakaj, who has been serving as vice president of powertrain engineering. Bob Fascetti, director of global engine engineering, will become a vice president and take on Bakaj’s previous role.

Czubay Retires

In the U.S., Felice is currently general sales manager for Ford and Lincoln. He takes over as Czubay completes a 43-year career in the auto industry, which started with Ford in 1970. After leaving the company in 1983, he rejoined Ford in 2008.

Ford this month is using a dealer-bonus program often called stair-step incentives in which the automaker pays dealers more cash per model as they cross sales thresholds for some of its oldest Lincoln models.

While Czubay said on a Sept. 4 conference call that Ford doesn’t run stair-step programs, company sales analyst Erich Merkle said later the automaker is using them selectively.

Ford slipped 0.2 percent to $17.35 at the close in in New York. The shares have surged 34 percent this year, outpacing the 18 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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