Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.'s president of the Americas, says the automaker has a simple message at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit: making better — and greener — cars.
"We want to talk about and communicate how we are accelerating our electrification plans for a number of our products," he tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "We want to talk about how we're developing and delivering affordable fuel economy for millions, and we want to show how we are strengthening our new car lineup with our new Taurus."
Along with the Taurus, Ford unveiled its new F-150, which was named 2009 North American Truck of the Year at the auto show on Sunday. Fields dismisses suggestions that the F-150 sends a message that the era of high gas prices are over and that the U.S. economy is sound.
"We're actually not communicating that message here," he says.
Fields says Ford knows leadership in the trucks segments is important, but so is "balancing our product portfolio with smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles."
Fields says the downturn has affected the entire trucks segment, and sales are down overall between 25 percent and 30 percent.
"It's very highly correlated to the construction industry, and we all know what's happened with housing prices and the construction business," he says.
Complaints over vehicle quality have long dogged the U.S. industry. Despite reports that U.S. automakers have made significant quality improvements, that perception hasn't carried over to the general public.
"We have to be very realistic that perceptions take time to change," Fields says. "And the way you change that is to be very disciplined and consistent in things like the products that you bring to market, the type of technology they have, the quality that they have, the fuel efficiency that they have."
He says the key to winning back former customers who may have switched to Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota is quality. Fields says being good just isn't good enough.
"We realize that we can't just be as good as a Toyota or a Honda in the car business — we have to be better to give people the willingness to come and check us out," he says.