July 30, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Ford CEO on Capitol Hill urging tough line on currency

Mark Fields (Detroit News file photo)

Washington— Ford president and CEO Mark Fields on Wednesday urged Congress to take a tough line on currency manipulation and said the naming of a new chief of its luxury Lincoln brand shows the Dearborn automaker is committed to the brand.

Fields made his first trip to Capitol Hill since taking over from Alan Mulally on July 1. He had a full day of meetings with top congressional Republican and Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate. The meetings included Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, Dave Camp, R-Midland, John Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township..

Last week, Fields named the company’s engineering chief, Kumar Galhotra, president of Lincoln. Galhotra is succeeding Jim Farley, who is still serving as the head of global marketing for Ford. In a Detroit News interview after a meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Fields said the personnel change showed that Ford is committed to the brand that has faced significant challenges.

“It’s really the next phase of what we’re doing with Lincoln,” he said. “I think it underscores our commitment to Lincoln, and it shows that we have a very senior executive dedicated full time and really taking Lincoln to the next level.”

Lincoln’s U.S. sales are up 16.3 percent in the first half of the year after falling in 2013 to a more than 30-year-low — down 0.6 percent — while Ford brand sales in the United States were up 11.3 percent. General Motors Co.’s Cadillac brand outsells Lincoln by nearly two to one. Ford is introducing several new Lincoln models in the next few years and expanding the brand to China.

Asked if he was planning any other personnel moves, Fields didn’t directly answer. “We’re going to just continue implementing our plan,” said Fields.

He urged lawmakers to take a tough line with Japan in ongoing trade talks as part of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, made a call for tax reform and said the automaker needs “regulatory certainty to plan our business” in future fuel economy standards.

Under a deal nearly doubling fuel-efficiency standards by 2025 to a fleetwide average 54.5 mpg, federal regulators will conduct a “mid-term review” to see if the final years are feasible.

“We are free traders — that runs to our core,” said Fields, saying Ford supports a 12-nation free trade deal “but only if it has strong enforceable currency disciplines because currency manipulation is another form of trade barrier.” Fields said the automaker wants a “level playing field” on trade.

In January, GM CEO Mary Barra met with lawmakers and also raised similar concerns about the trade pact, saying she wanted currency provisions. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman have repeatedly said currency should be taken up in other international forums. Last year, then-Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said Japan is not manipulating its currency.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, said Fields “emphasized the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership “to be done right for the auto industry.”

U.S. automakers worry that a trade deal that didn’t address currency could see countries manipulate theirs to make exports to the U.S. cheaper, and thus threaten production here.

Ford announced in late 2012 that Mulally was handing over control of day-to-day operations to Fields, who had been named chief operating officer.

“It’s continuity of the plan, accelerating our pace of progress and it’s going very well and we’re all just staying focused on the business,” Fields said. “Both (Ford executive chairman) Bill (Ford) and Alan we’re really dedicated to a (smooth transition), and it’s been a great gift to the organization.”

Mulally had strong relationships with members of Congress and the Obama administration. He even got a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama after announcing he would step down at Ford. Fields has spent time meeting lawmakers and accompanied Mulally to Capitol Hill last year.