In the Right Fields

Considered one of Ford Motor Co.'s current-generation whiz kids, Mark Fields, 41, is chairman and CEO of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, a collection of European luxury brands Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. He joined Ford in 1989 and held a series of sales and marketing positions. He's headed PAG since July of 2002 after serving as president of Mazda Motor Corp., where he oversaw major

Considered one of Ford Motor Co.'s current-generation “whiz kids,” Mark Fields, 41, is chairman and CEO of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, a collection of European luxury brands — Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.

He joined Ford in 1989 and held a series of sales and marketing positions. He's headed PAG since July of 2002 after serving as president of Mazda Motor Corp., where he oversaw major restructuring and a record turnaround.

A New York native, he's married with two sons and lives in London. Ward's sat down with him to discuss past events, current affairs and future goals.

Ward's: A colleague says, “As an ice breaker, ask him about the 350 Volvo XC-90 SUVs on that ship that sank late last year.” Any chance of recovering those?

Fields: We did recover them. Interesting story: I'm sitting on my couch watching CNN. All of a sudden they announce a car-carrier sank in the English Channel. I thought, ‘That's interesting.’ Then they said it was carrying luxury cars.

Then five minutes later the phone rang. But, yes, they did raise the boat in sections. We have photos of beautiful XC90s cut in half. Others looked in better shape. But nothing was salvageable.

Ward's: What's the status of the PAG dealerships, the concept of having showrooms for all or many of the brands under one roof?

Fields: Our strategy is simple: To get common ownership of PAG franchises under one dealer. But it's pragmatic opposed to dogmatic. Which means, yes, we want common ownership, but not necessarily under one roof. They should be separate showrooms with separate sales forces. Common ownership offers a lot of financial benefits to the dealer, a lot of efficiencies.

We've made progress getting common ownership. In the U.S., we have more than 60% of our Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships in common ownership with either each other or with the Volvo brand. Again, it's pragmatic. We're not going to do anything stupid. We have a lot of partners and we want to make sure we achieve our strategy, but not in a way that's too disruptive.

Ward's: What would be stupid?

Fields: Let me give a hypothetical. We go into a market where we have a Volvo dealer and say, ‘Well, we want common ownership at this particular market area.’ Then we later go to a Jaguar-Land Rover dealer and say, “We want you to do a buy-sell with this Volvo dealer.”

Now if each dealer is doing well, all we'd end up doing is a.) alienating our existing business partners; and b.) potentially causing disruption in a market area. So, it's got to be right for all parties involved.

It's got to be a convincing business proposition for the dealers willing to take on the franchises and dealers willing to exit their franchises. And it's got to be a logical deal for us in terms of looking at the market area and making sure we got the best dealer for it.

Ward's: That original all-under-one-roof PAG dealership concept, how many of those have been executed?

Fields: Most have been executed in Germany. It's not a huge number. Probably second, the Netherlands. I'm talking all the brands under one roof. Again, as we go forward, I'm not pounding on the table saying, ‘Thou shall only go in that direction.’ It's being pragmatic. To do that, for example, in one of the places I've lived, in Buenos Aires, would be hellaciously unaffordable because of real estate.

Ward's: How about North America?

Fields: There are opportunities. Roger Penske opened Chauncey Ranch (a $100-million, 11-showroom luxury auto mall) outside Phoenix. Beautiful facility. We have Bert Boeckmann in Van Nuys, CA. He's done a beautiful facility for us. We'll do it where it makes sense and where the dealer can support it. I subscribe to the adage, “It's all about product.” But to me, a strong No.2 is having a hell of a profitable dealership network.

Ward's: Everyone says a Jaguar SUV is out of the question.

Fields: It's called Land Rover.

Ward's: How about a Jaguar cross/utility vehicle?

Fields: I don't rule out those types of things. As we look at our brands and segments, the key question is, ‘Can we create a credible entry that's a logical extension of the brand?’ From that standpoint, there are many possibilities with Jaguar, but we have to make sure our eyes aren't bigger than our stomach.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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