Ford CEO on Capitol Hill urging tough line on currency

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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.

Last week, Fields named the company?s engineering chief, Kumar Galhotra, as 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.?

Fields is making his first trip to Capitol Hill since taking over from Alan Mulally on July 1 and has a full day of meetings with members of Congress from both parties.

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 than 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, though was jokingly asked by a company vice president if he was satisfied with the government affairs team. That comment prompted an immediate endorsement from Fields: ?We love our government affairs team.?

Fields 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 TPP to be done right for the auto industry.?

U.S. automakers worry that a trade deal that didn’t address currency could threaten U.S. production by allowing countries to manipulate their currency to make exports to the U.S. cheaper.

Fields also said he thought the transition from Mulally had been smooth. 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.?

Earlier this month, search engine giant Google Inc. announced it named Mulally as a director ? less than two weeks after his retirement from Ford.

?It?s thrilling to see Alan being able to take his talents to another iconic company,? Fields said, noting that Ford has partnerships with Google on digital advertising and connectivity. ?Alan is very talented and has got a lot of energy.?

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

Ford has been actively pushing Congress for nearly two years to take a tough line on Japan currency. The United Auto Workers union and many in Congress are pushing for limits on the ability of Japan and other countries to intervene to lower the value of their currency to boost exports.

Automakers also want to keep tariffs on Japanese vehicles in place for at least 25 years in order to assure that Japan opens its market to more U.S. vehicles.

Dropping the tariffs immediately “will reward them with nearly $1 billion in annual tariff savings and allow for a massive loophole to remain in place by not preventing currency manipulation,” Matt Blunt, president and CEO of the American Automotive Policy Council, the Detroit Three trade group, said last year.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association wants a speedy phase out of tariffs on imported vehicles to the U.S., which is a 25 percent import tariff on pickup trucks and other light trucks, 2.5 percent tariff on cars and auto parts.

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