Ford Motor Co.'s efforts to stabilize its shrinking share of the U.S. market will get a boost from a 2008 model-year lineup that includes the revived Taurus sedan and updated crossovers, a top executive said Friday.
Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said the automaker is making strides toward stabilizing its market share at about 14 to 15 percent — one goal of its "Way Forward" restructuring plan.
Fields noted that Ford's U.S. market share so far this year is about 15.3 percent, but showing signs of stability after a decade of declines. In 1997, Ford had more than 25 percent of the market, according to Autodata Corp.
"We really are starting to deliver products that people will want," Fields said during an event at Ford's Dearborn vehicle testing facilities to showcase Ford, Lincoln and Mercury's 2008 offerings.
In addition to the Taurus sedan, key in the 2008 lineup will be the Taurus X, a re-badged version of the Freestyle crossover and an updated version of the Edge, which has been a recent highlight for Ford. Edge sales have been strong since the crossover made its debut late last year even as Ford's overall U.S. sales have been on the decline, down 12 percent in the first five months of the year.
With recent updates to its Lincoln line, a revamped Focus small car due out in the fall and new features for its F-150 pickup trucks — including lockable storage accessible from the sides of the truck and a new cargo management system — Fields said Ford has its "best showroom" in company history.
But Karl Brauer, editor in chief at the Edmunds.com auto Web site, noted that Ford's 2008 models are mostly updated, rather than all-new. He said the company lacked direction before Alan Mulally took over as chief executive last year, and Ford is working to make up for lost time in product planning.
"The company is capable of turning out incredibly good products, and in rather short time," Brauer said.
Ford earlier this year announced plans to rename the slow-selling Five Hundred model the Taurus, which was previously used for a car that became the nation's top-seller. It's now heading to dealer showrooms. The Mercury Montego, the Five Hundred's cousin, is being renamed the Sable and getting a similar makeover.
Brauer said the new Taurus sedan faces the challenge of overcoming negative impressions left on drivers of the Five Hundred. He said they will have to be persuaded that the more powerful model is worth a drive.
"By now, the car has already gotten an impression with consumers," Brauer said. "And now they've got to change the first impression."
Derrick Kuzak, Ford's head of global product development, said Ford is taking a "no-excuses" approach to product development, including improving the perception of Ford vehicles.
"For me, changing perceptions is very simple," he said. "To deliver. To deliver, more consistently, year after year."
Fields also said Ford is ahead in some parts of its restructuring, including plans to cut production capacity to better match lower demand.
Fields said Ford essentially has met its goal of cutting 14,000 salaried jobs. Ford was seeking to reduce white-collar employment by 10,000 this year, in addition to about 4,000 who left last year.
"We actually are done with that," Fields said. "We do have some folks that are staying with us a little bit longer, through the remainder of the year, in some critical positions."
About 27,000 U.S. hourly workers have left Dearborn-based Ford under buyout or early retirement offers as part of its effort to pare down its work force, and Fields reiterated that number on Friday.