Ford may shake up sales unit
Top marketing exec likely to be replaced as automaker misses its first
Three months into a new year, Ford Motor Co. is still struggling to hit
lowered sales targets, meaning a shake up of its sales and marketing
operations may not be far off.
The automaker's top North American sales executive, Cisco Codina, is rumored
to be in jeopardy, sources familiar with the situation tell me, but CEO Alan
Mulally told lieutenants as recently as Tuesday evening on the sidelines of
the New York auto show that he's "not considering" personnel moves "at this
Which means Mulally supports Codina and Americas President Mark Fields, the
two most directly responsible for Ford hitting U.S. sales targets, until he
doesn't. He told an associate that Codina and Fields need to put a
"full-court press" on increasing showroom traffic and "polishing" the Blue
Those are top priorities for Mulally this spring, signaling the increasing
intensity surrounding the ability of Fields, Codina & Co. to hit the sales
and market share targets that are a cornerstone of Mulally's recovery plan
for Ford. They have time, but not much.
Fresh from his tour as a moonlighting salesman inside Ford dealers in
Dearborn and Woodland Hills, Calif., Mulally's focus on North American sales
and marketing comes as Ford is searching for a chief marketing officer,
undertaking a strategic assessment of its cars, trucks and SUVs, their
competitiveness and how they are marketed, and parrying criticism from
'We don't have a lot of time'
"Bottom line is dealer sales and dealer profitability have got to improve,"
says Kevin Collins, president of Bill Collins Ford in Louisville, Ky., and
chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council. "Our issues are critical and
we don't have a lot of time to wait."
They aren't the only ones. Mulally is a devout believer in setting a
business plan, reviewing it weekly and hitting the targets -- or else. Ford
missed its U.S. sales and market share targets in January and February and,
according to sources familiar with the targets, barely hit those for March.
Bottom line: They missed the quarter, but haven't given up on "making the
year," crucial if Fields and his sales team hope to extend their tenure into
next year. That's why there's intensifying urgency to make changes in sales
and marketing before too much of the year has passed.
Ford officials won't comment on "speculation" over the leadership of sales
and marketing, which they credit with "stabilizing" Ford. There have been
high-level discussions about reassigning Codina and replacing him with
Darryl Hazel, president of Ford customer service, among others.
But Mulally, in his job for less than six months, is showing a preference
for letting results drive change. By publicly declaring that Fields and
Codina need to drive showroom traffic and "polish the Oval," he is
ratcheting up the public expectation they must meet -- or else.
Sell products, not the deal
The silver lining in Ford's tough sales performance, detailed in a
hyper-ventilated March sales report, is that its newest cars and crossovers
are holding their own against well-established rivals.
You'd have thought Ford, Lincoln and Mercury blew the proverbial doors off
their showrooms across America, belying anxiety felt by dealers who want
Ford to focus its marketing more on its products and their value -- not
necessarily the deal of the month.
Ford's midsize Fusion, Milan and MKZ "set monthly sales records" in March,
the release blared. F-Series pickup sales reached their "highest monthly
sales since August." The Edge and MKZ crossovers, in the market for a grand
total of four months, "are achieving sales levels comparable to
That's the good news for a company whose marketing plans and sales goals
seem to change with alarming frequency and deliver middling results.
The bad news is that the sales for Ford's bellwether Ford Division are down
15.2 percent through the first quarter of this year. Mercury sales are off
7.9 percent. Lincoln, buoyed by the new crossover, is up 8.1 percent --
evidence that enlivening its lackluster product line can't come soon enough.
If the data "sets you free," as Mulally likes to say, more quarters like
that will set a few executives free, too.
"I have tried to live my life so that my family would love me and my friends
respect me. The others can do whatever the hell they please."