FORD FUSION: Car's launch manager fits its target audience
Internationally educated exec takes on Honda, Toyota
BY SARAH A. WEBSTER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
To launch its new midsize 2006 Fusion sedan, Ford Motor Co. has a special weapon: Jyarland Daniels Jones.
Name: Jyarland Daniels Jones
Title: Fusion launch manager
Education: Master's degree in business administration, University of Michigan, 2003. Bachelor's in marketing and Japanese, University of Kansas, 1996.
Career: Hallmark Cards, 1996-99. Johnson & Johnson, 1999-2001.
At first blush, Jones seems the perfect person to market the vehicle, simply because -- as a polished, successful, outgoing thirtysomething woman -- she is the vehicle's target demographic.
In downtown Ferndale on Monday, Jones gave journalists a glance at the new vehicle, which will take on the nation's two top-selling cars, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Fusion, which will be manufactured in Hermosillo, Mexico, and be for sale this fall, starts at $17,795.
Walking around a black top-of-the-line Fusion in a salmon pinstripe suit, Jones excitedly pointed out the vehicle's selling points, such as the bold three-bar chrome grille, 17-inch wheels and special levers that automatically fold the rear seats flat from the trunk.
"I have a bag like that. I have shoes like that," she said of the contrast stitching on the seats.
A deeper look at the Fusion's top saleswoman, reveals that the 31-year-old Jones is much more than a marketer with an MBA who fits the right profile.
Jones, whose first name is pronounced yar-land, was at first reluctant to discuss her background, partly because she tires of the surprised reaction to her childhood history.
But Jones' history reveals that Ford Motor has chosen a tenacious fighter who knows how to persevere. More importantly, she understands the Japanese competition in a way few other Americans might.
A native of the small town of Junction City, Kan., not far from Ft. Riley, Jones grew up in 10 different foster homes.
To have her tell it, she was raised by the people, the village, around her. And while she notes "I didn't have all good foster homes," many of them were, and her teachers took a special interest in her development.
She learned to play the piano and other important lessons.
"At the end of the day, you have to have high standards," Jones said. "You work hard to get what you want. ... and never, ever, ever give up."
Jones' first job, at age 15, was doing paperwork at a General Motors Corp. dealership, and she quickly decided her future was in business.
"People who I respected in the community -- because I didn't have a family -- were in business, and I didn't want to be poor," she said.
Those were the days when people referred to Japan as "Japan Inc."
So Jones thought learning the culture of Japan would give her a leg up in her future business plans. Growing up near Ft. Riley, she also loved to hear tales of foreign travel.
When Jones decided to visit the country as an exchange student in her junior year of high school, her hometown raised the money to send her.
Her host family in Sendai didn't speak a lick of English, as Jones had been told they would.
"I'm obviously a very verbal person, so I had to figure that out," she said.
Jones returned home speaking fluent Japanese a year later, with a tough year of Japanese schooling under her belt. She later went to the University of Kansas, where she majored in marketing and Japanese and spent another year as an exchange student in Japan.
Jones graduated with her bachelor's degree in 1996 and went on to work in marketing jobs at Hallmark Cards Inc., in Kansas City, where she tried to find business applications for cards. She did that for three years before she decided that she needed sales experience to gain more credibility as a marketer.So she moved to Johnson & Johnson, where she sold gastrointestinal drugs.
"I did really well in that environment," Jones said.
But it wasn't enough for Jones, who went on to get her MBA from the University of Michigan in 2003.
After graduating, Jones went to Ford, where she did marketing work in product development at Lincoln-Mercury. She later moved to the Dearborn-based Asia-Pacific division.
Now, as the Fusion launch manager, she's in charge of rolling out a car which, along with the Ford 500 and Freestyle wagon, replaces the Taurus.
That was Ford's best-selling car last year, but promoting the vehicle in a market where foreign competitors continue to make gains won't be easy.
Ford sold 248,148 Tauruses last year, while 426,990 Camrys and 386,770 Accords were sold.
"That's a tough segment," Joe Phillippi, president AutoTrends Consulting Inc., said of the midsize car market facing the Fusion. "It's going to have to have some unique things."
Jones is reaching out to those people in a variety of new-media ways, with online messaging and "flash" concerts. Those are marketing events where Ford notifies consumers who've signed up on the automaker's Web site about free concerts through text messaging on their cell phones a few days beforehand.
Ford, which also plans to sell about half its Fusions to men, is partnering with "Ride with Funk Master Flex," a custom car show on Spike TV.
Jones said the tagline for the new Fusion is "Live Life in Drive."
As Jones clutched her Treo 650 smartphone and explained how she's been traveling a lot, it's clear she knows a lot about that.