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Old 12-25-2006, 05:38   #1 (permalink)
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US:Execs promote Ford in U.S. tour

Execs promote Ford in U.S. tour

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- Think of it as Ford Motor Co.'s version of Harry S. Truman's whistle-stop campaign.

The struggling automaker is going grassroots in its fight to win the hearts and minds of American consumers, sending executives to towns and cities large and small to meet with chambers of commerce, Lions Clubs and other community groups. Their mission is to deliver a simple message: Ford is here to stay.

Ford emissaries are crisscrossing the country, visiting more than 50 cities since November in an effort dubbed the Acceleration Tour. They've spoken to Rotarians in Missouri and business leaders in Mississippi. They've been interviewed by reporters from small-town papers and TV stations. And they aren't done. The automaker plans to send executives to at least 100 communities in the next few months.

"We think it's really important to speak directly to people," Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said Friday. "We want to get our message to media and community leaders around the country."

Jeff Wood, director of product development and efficiency for the Americas, has served as the Blue Oval envoy in Mississippi and North Carolina.Since early November, he has been in such places as Jackson, Miss., and Greensboro, N.C., chatting up chamber leaders and local journalists. He's spoken to several Rotary Clubs, though he didn't get quite the welcome his colleagues did in St. Louis, where Rotarians serenaded Ford executives with a special song about the Blue Oval written for the occasion.

Ford's problems are common knowledge in Metro Detroit, but Wood has been surprised by how much residents in even far-flung burgs know about the company's challenges and its plan to overcome them.

While many have heard about the layoffs, the buyouts and the plant closings, however, few know about the new vehicles coming out of Ford's product pipeline.

So, Wood tells them how the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans bested the vaunted Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in Consumer Reports' latest quality survey. He shows them the new Ford Edge crossover or its Lincoln sibling, the MKX. And he tells them even more exciting vehicles are on the way.

After each presentation, there is time for questions and an opportunity for the locals to check out the vehicles.

"I show them we really do have a plan for success," Wood said. "We really just spread the good word about Ford."

According to Wood and others who have participated in the program, Americans everywhere are eager to ask about Ford's alternative fuel strategy. And many want to know how Ford's problems multiplied so quickly.

Ford is not the only Detroit automaker taking its message to the masses.

Earlier this year, rival General Motors Corp. launched the "Arlington Project" in a bid to overcome negative publicity as the company executes a major restructuring. Some 50 GM representatives were assigned to 16 cities from Sacramento, Calif., to Buffalo, N.Y. They are waging a direct marketing campaign and meeting with local dealers and media to talk about the good things going on in Detroit.

Such efforts can help repair some of the weaknesses in the corporate armor at GM and Ford, said George Peterson, president of California market research firm AutoPacific Inc. But the automakers must listen as well as talk.

"This should be a dialogue," he said. "This shouldn't just be them up there making speeches. Too often, they rule from the ivory towers in Detroit. They need to get out and see who their constituency is."
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