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Thursday, August 03, 2006 

Vol. 2 No. 28

2007 Ford Fleet Preview – Simply the Best…in Message, Meeting & Merriments

I have to admit, even before I got to the Ford Fleet Preview show, July 23rd –25th, I was predisposed to like it the best, as it felt great to have a real bona fide invitation (no more gate crashing) and, of course, Las Vegas is my favorite venue for any car related function. However, this year Ford outdid itself in so many ways, that it clearly was the “best in class” fleet preview show by far.

A Message with Impact, Right from the

First, the keynote address of the business meeting on the first night was given by none other than Mark Fields, Executive Vice President, Ford Motor Company; President, The Americas. Regular readers of this blog remember that I was impressed by how much Fields knew about fleet when he addressed the JD Power Roundtable meeting last January. Now I’m even more impressed not only by his detailed knowledge of the three channels of the fleet business (commercial, rental & government), but that he thought enough of this end of the business to take the time out to address the entire group, have some smaller group meetings, and participate in the cocktail “mingling.” You might assume this would be the case, being that, as Fields so aptly noted, fleet is such a large part of the total domestic manufacturers’ new vehicle sales (for Ford it was 27% of their vehicle sales last year, with something like 750k units….and this year they project 900k unit sales), but I have to note that Fields was the only top level executive who “stepped up to the plate” to address the crowd at the domestic fleet preview shows this year. As critical as fleet is to GM and Chrysler, I didn’t see Rick Wagoner at the GM show, or Tom Lasorda at the Chrysler show…

It was clear Fields knew what he was talking about as well. He had his fleet facts in order, and he clearly understands the dynamics of the business. It’s unfortunate, but I’d swear a lot of executives at that level that I have met only have a passing understanding of how fleet works (unless, of course, they started in that side of the business as lots do…). The other thing that impresses me about Mark Fields is that when he mingles at a Ford cocktail party he really gets around…he even spoke with me this time. Now that’s my kind of car guy.

Mark Fields, one of the best known leaders in the autmotive industry, was the keynote speaker, shown here with Demetra Markopoulos of Driveitaway

As the chief architect and executive in charge of implementation of Ford’s “Way Forward” program, Mark Fields has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, and while not ignoring the press or Wall Street, it seems to me that Fields knows that being in the trenches, talking to volume buyers and dealers, is the key to getting direct feedback and selling vehicles. In my view, this is the strategy that wins wars; many forget but this was exactly Lee Iacocca’s approach when he led the dramatically successful turnaround of Chrysler Corp. many years ago. From what I see firsthand, the “Way Forward” has strong, in touch, leadership, which is usually the key to success. My bet is that Fields will join the ranks of turnaround legends Iacocca and, most recently, Ghosn, in the not-too- distant future (remember, you heard it here first…).

On the “Edge” with Rick Titus, and a Very Hot Ride & Drive

This year’s fleet show, of course, had it

s share of new product presentations and the required “ride & drive” product comparisons. The new Edge and Ford truck was presented by “Driver’s Talk” radio host Rick Titus, with a pretty elaborate performance and display.

Rick Titus from “Driver’s Talk” radio

In addition, there was a safety forum featuring Tom Artushin, Safety Strategy Manager at Ford; a design forum with Peter Horbury, Ford’s Executive Director, Design, North America; and an exhibit center set up with Ford Fleet supplier partners. The ride and drive at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway was nice addition t

oo, but added new meaning to the term “hot weather.” Yes, I know a heat wave is gripping the entire country right now, and it’s hard to find any locale south of Alaska that isn’t in the 90’s, but Vegas had to have been around 110 degrees that day (no fooling), so the label “ride & fry” might have been more appropriate.

Closing Night Entertainment: Jay Leno

The Ford Fleet Preview show has a history of providing the best entertainment in the fleet side of the business; last year featured Michael McDonald and the year before that it was Earth, Wind & Fire. However, this year they ou

tdid themselves in securing Jay Leno as entertainment for the closing night. Securing the host of the “Tonight Show,” one of the more famous civilian self-proclaimed “car guys,” was indeed quite a coup. The reception and dinner was great, the performance by Jay Leno exceptional and, without doubt, this was not only the best fleet preview show of the year, but quite possibly the best one I’ve ever attended (with a legitimate invitation or not). Hats off to Hal Feder, Executive Director, Ford North American Fleet, Lease & Remarketing Operations, and John Rupert, General Manager, Commercial & Government Operations, for an outstanding show both in content and presentation. In these challenging times for the domestics, it’s very impressive that the Ford fleet folks not onl

y met their high quality standards of past fleet preview shows, but surpassed them…

Hal Feder, of Ford Fleet fame, and Jay Leno, the featured entertainer known for his car collection -- aside from The Tonight Show, of course.

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