Soon after Jim Farley became Ford Motor Co.'s marketing chief after a 17-year career at Toyota, he took a spin in a subcompact with Ford's new direct-injection, turbocharged engine.
"I couldn't wipe the smile off my face," Farley said. "I've never driven a Toyota like that, ever. The torque, out of that kind of displacement — in this case a 4-cylinder — was shocking."
It is a good thing he feels that way, because one of Farley's first and most critical assignments as vice president of global marketing will be to sell Ford's engine — dubbed EcoBoost — to buyers bewildered by the ever-growing options in vehicle technology.
Ford sees the EcoBoost four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines — which will be unveiled at this month's North American International Auto Show in Detroit — as a key part of its strategy to improve fuel economy in the near term, along with improved aerodynamics and lighter materials.
The 2009 Lincoln MKS sedan, out later this year, will be the first Ford vehicle with EcoBoost as an option. Ford said EcoBoost will give the MKS's 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 the power and torque of a V8.
Ford says EcoBoost can deliver up to 20 percent better fuel economy and a 15 percent improvement in emissions without compromising driving performance. It is also promoting the engine as a less expensive alternative to hybrids and direct-injection diesels. Ford did not reveal how much EcoBoost will cost, but said customers can expect to recoup their initial investment through fuel savings in two-and-a-half years, versus seven-and-a-half years for a diesel or nearly 12 years for a hybrid. EcoBoost is also ethanol compatible.
With direct injection, fuel is injected into each cylinder of the engine in small, precise amounts, which improves fuel economy and power. The turbocharger uses waste energy from the exhaust gas to drive the turbine.
Casey Selecman, manager of powertrain forecasting for the auto consulting firm CSM Worldwide, said Audi, Volkswagen, General Motors Corp. and others have had similar technology on U.S. roads for several years now, but Ford is aiming for higher volumes. The company hopes to put EcoBoost engines on 500,000 vehicles annually by 2013.
"I think this is really going to be a brave one. We're going to have to invest. We're going to have to tell customers how we're different," Farley said. "Direct-injection gas is really a technology that could be implemented in the millions. It's significant. It's broader."
Farley said U.S. drivers are not as familiar with direct injection as drivers in Western Europe, who quickly embraced direct-injection diesels as a way to cut high gas costs. Many U.S. truck buyers also have adopted direct-injection diesels, Farley said. Now it is his job to bring that technology to the masses.
"We need to simplify things for customers. As marketers, it's unrealistic to expect customers to understand high-pressure direct injection or forced induction in turbocharging," he told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
"Let's face it. Ford is a populist brand. On a good day, when Ford works right, it's a company that democratizes technology."
Farley is an executive who democratizes marketing. The intense, mop-haired 45-year-old, who is widely credited with the success of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Scion brand, said he came up with Scion's marketing plan after a two-hour conversation with a security guard.
At Ford's recent holiday media party, which was held in the same complex where Farley's grandfather once worked in a Ford foundry, Farley skipped the hors d'oeuvres and huddled in a back room with one of the maintenance men so he could get an honest opinion of the new F-150.
"That's me. I'm off somewhere else. That's what I'm good at. I'm good at diving in, unlocking the secrets, and really taking advantage of opportunities where it looks hard to others," Farley said.
"I enjoy it, and I think there's no bigger opportunity in the automotive space than Ford Motor Company right now, because I think it's a brand people really do love."
Alexander Edwards, who heads the automotive division of the San Diego-based Strategic Vision consulting group, said Farley was extremely well-regarded at Toyota. Ford's current workers have survived drastic employment cuts and are eager for leadership, Edwards said.
"Jim Farley is someone who knows what can be done if he understands the culture Ford is in right now," Edwards said. "The message needs to be reassurance, both to the people who will be working at Ford and to the customers."
In recent years, Ford has been battered by fierce competition, quality issues and high gas prices, which slashed sales of sport utility vehicles. Ford lost $12.7 billion in 2006, and the company's U.S. market share has plummeted to 15 percent from 25 percent a decade ago.
The latest blow came last week, when Toyota overtook Ford as the No. 2 automaker by U.S. sales behind GM, a position Ford had held for 75 years.
In the past, Farley said, Ford did not have a good enough story to tell to customers. But the company has vastly improved quality, safety, resale value and other measures, and those strides have been noted by Consumer Reports and others. Its crossovers — the Ford Edge, Ford Escape and Lincoln MKX — were runaway hits in 2007, and the F-150 remains the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.
But Ford cars still are not getting the consideration they should, he said, so he is developing a new marketing plan that will try to re-establish trust. As part of that plan, he wants to decentralize marketing, involve more local dealers and make better use of auto shows.
"That's the place where you can turn people on. So many companies go to auto shows and it's like a parking lot," he said. "It should be a hands-on museum, like a kids' museum."
Farley said he feels a deep obligation to Ford's workers to communicate the company's progress. He's gone so far as to meet with psychologists to figure out how to reach customers who are apathetic about the company.
"We can't unlock this unless we're real honest. We have to look in the mirror and say, 'OK, no baloney. Where are we with customers? Take away Mustang and F-series, and where are we? Who are we?'" he said.
"When I do that, I see customers who want Ford to succeed, but they put the burden of responsibility on the company to unlock that key. You tell me why I should care about your company."