Ford Japan Ltd

Ford Japan Ltd Timothy D Tucker, President of Ford Japan Ltd

TOKYO —

Although the imported car market remains small in Japan, some foreign brands are still iconic and well known among car enthusiasts. Ford is one such brand – with its Explorer, Mustang, Escape and Lincoln models.

In 2010, Ford sold about 3,000 cars in Japan, but the company has exciting plans for Japan in the future, says Tim Tucker, president of Ford Japan Ltd. After graduating from UCLA, Tucker joined Ford and has now been with the automaker for 27 years. Prior to assuming current post a year ago, Tucker has worked in the UK, Israel, Vietnam, Malaysia and India.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Tucker at the Ford office in Toranomon to hear more.

How would you describe Ford’s image in Japan?

Ford is perceived as an American luxury, near-premium brand. I think it has benefited from both the good legacy of Ford Motor Co and sometimes suffered from the not-so-good legacy of Ford. However, Ford does have some interesting iconic products with a long history in Japan.

Like most American autos, we used to have a reputation of big, lumbering luxury cars with poor fuel economy and sometimes not good quality. Ford began in earnest probably 6 or 7 years ago tackling the issues related to quality, such as fuel economy standards. Ford has really outstanding quality. But perceptions are another matter. That may take a little longer to change.

Ford is much more globalized now, isn’t it?

Yes. Even though we’ve been around for 105 years, we were never 100% globalized. Now we are, in the sense that we don’t have product development Europe, product development Asia, product development U.S. – it’s all global development. We now produce global platforms. We’ve learned a lot about how to improve quality in all our manufacturing plants around the world. We source from Europe for Japan; we source from the U.S. and we will be sourcing from Asia. 

How do you market the brand in Japan?

Ford is still a very small business in Japan, along with most of the import manufacturers, except the Germans. We use a lot of direct mail, organize events and support for dealers who engage their customers. We do a lot of service activities. One of the areas that we try to focus on is social media – through the various sites, we can connect with consumers to let them know how they can take a test drive, where to find a showroom, who to talk to about the brand and so on.

How many cars did you sell in Japan in 2010?

Last year, we sold about 3,000 cars in Japan. Twenty years ago, we sold 80,000 a year. Our low point was 2009. We had been declining for a number of reasons. We were in business with Mazda where we essentially had rebadged Mazdas, sold to compete against the domestics for very little profit margin. There was never a winning strategy for long time. Ford didn’t really have a Japan strategy.

And for the future?

We are on track to have a bit higher volume in 2011. The most exciting thing now is a future product cycle plan, which will get us back on a growth path.

What models are you selling here?

Ford primarily sells SUVs in Japan – Escape, some Lincolns and the Explorer from U.S. We have a couple of iconic products like the Mustang. The Explorer is our best-selling model in Japan. We’ve been selling them here for 20 years and we’ve got 30,000 customers. We are launching a new one in September. It is the first major change in that product in probably 20 years. It’s gone from a frame-based truck platform to a sedan-type SUV. The dealers and media love it. The demand is very high in the U.S. It will cost between 4.4 million yen and 5.3 million. 

Who are your buyers?

The demographics are 35-plus primarily because of the income range and their knowledge of Ford’s history. We have some loyal customers who have had Ford cars for 20 or 30, 40 years. We have some of the oldest dealers in Japan. There is one dealer in Sendai who is almost 100. His great grandfather started his company.

Do you sell any right-hand drives?

We sell one right-hand drive model, called Escape. It is assembled in Taiwan and sold in Asia. If you try to sell a right-hand drive Explorer to a customer, they wouldn’t buy it because it is an American product. They don’t want it changed.

So you are not just selling a car but an image?

There is generally an overriding brand image and focus and ours is on American lifestyle. And that’s how we market the brand and the product. 

In Japan, does there tend to be a greater frequency of model changes or new releases?

Yes, more so than in most markets. One of the benefits of sourcing products that Japanese consumers want from Europe and the U.S. is that we can now benefit from the globalization and the increased frequency of model changes from the U.S. 

Tell us about your dealer network.

We have 54 independent dealers, 10 company stores primarily in Tokyo and Osaka and 50 service-only dealers around Japan. With dealers, we look at their capabilities, experience and location – what the demand is and what we call through-put – how many vehicles we need to sell to make a dealership profitable.

Do you visit dealers often?

Yes. One of the things I like to do the most is visit the various dealers. I always have. I started out at the bottom of the food chain as a zone manager, spending 6 years in the U.S. visiting dealers every day. That’s the best way to learn about the business. I like to chat with customers. I equally want to hear concerns because consumers are very knowledgeable about our brand.

Is there ever an inventory problem?

We try to keep about 60 days’ supply in Japan. The new Explorer is being exported to 90 countries, so if there is a huge demand, it might take longer for delivery.

Do you adapt cars for the Japanese market?

One of the things we are working very hard to do is adapt our cars for requirements of the Japanese market. For example, Ford’s SYNC (a factory-installed, fully integrated in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that allows users to make hands-free telephone calls and control music and other functions using voice commands), My Ford touch – all of those need to come with Japanese language.

What’s happening with hybrids?

Ford has made a commitment to Asia and part of that is that we are rapidly globalizing hybrids, electric vehicles and we have the opportunity to bring those kinds of products into Japan when business conditions are right. Just a few years ago, that really wasn’t possible.

Is there much of a market for used cars in Japan?

The used car market is growing quickly and some of it was created by the disaster in March. Demand is probably at an unprecedented level. Resale values and trade-in values are high.

How many staff do you have here?

We have 54 people here, many long-term employees. I’m the only non-Japanese. We also have about 200 people at 10 dealers. As Ford is becoming more integrated in Asia, we have more Japanese employees traveling outside Japan for training. We provide incentives for employees to learn English.

Do you hire graduates?

We do. This is the first year in nearly 10 years that we will increase our head count. For mid-career hiring, we generally use an HR company.

Do your staff have to drive Fords?

No, that’s not a requirement. I use several of our cars, although since I live only 10 minutes away, it’s hardly worth the drive. I take part in ride and drives with media.

What is your management style?

Every market is very different and requires a little bit of flexibility in your leadership style. For Japan, because the team is so experienced, I generally try to give them a vision and general direction about where we need to go and set the priorities.

How do you like to relax?

I like to work out, run. I like to read and explore around Japan as much as possible.

Editor’s Note

The following questions were submitted by Inter FM radio personality Kamasami Kong.

Why should someone buy a Ford?

Ford has made tremendous progress in value for money, quality and safety, fuel efficiency. Ford is fully competitive now and for customers who are looking for other choices, Ford is a great brand to try.

How does Japan compare for Ford with other Asian markets?

Japan is a very small market. There are challenges with the costs of doing business in Japan compared to other countries in Asia. As a result, the import industry is probably 125,000 units. That’s small compared to any other market in Asia. China is our No. 1 market in Asia and India is probably No. 2.

How will power shortages affect people who want to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle?

The government is very progressive in terms of their desire to be able to support hybrids and electrics. Given the recent situation, that will be a big challenge. But the enthusiasm and desire are still there.

What was your first car? How old were you and what was the price of gas?

A 1956 Ford truck in East Texas. I was in high school. Gas was 25 cents a gallon.

  • 0

    ihavegreatlegs

    I saw one Mustang last year. Congrats.

  • 0

    Foxie

    Your V8 Mustang with glasstop looks really great.

  • 2

    DentShop

    The only Fords I see in Japan are big units like Explorers or GTs. Completely unsuited for the streets here and more status symbols for man-children rather than practical cars.

  • 2

    Godan

    Ford is perceived as an American luxury, near-premium brand.

    Sorry Tim, but you are so sadly mistaken! With that attitude, no wonder you guys do so poorly in Japan. Now Cadillac - there is a brand with cache. Heck, even Jeeps seem to sell better here in Japan than Fords.

    Ford didn’t really have a Japan strategy.

    Kudos for having the bravery to state the obvious!

    I like to chat with customers. I equally want to hear concerns because consumers are very knowledgeable about our brand.

    Guess you have spent 1000s of hours honing your Japanese skills. GMAB!

    Sorry, but the world is a small place and there is no way you should be charging your prices for your products! Tis a no brainer for the locals to purchase almost anything but a Ford. Wish you the best of luck, but I doubt even that would help you. :-(

  • 3

    ExportExpert

    I started out at the bottom of the food chain as a zone manager, spending 6 years in the U.S. visiting dealers every day

    I would hardly call that starting at the bottom of the food chain in any industry, quite easy to see this guy is very detached from reality - no wonder FORD struggles here

  • 0

    malfupete

    Do they sell Ford Fusions in Japan?

  • 1

    whiskeysour

    Please can I have a Mustang.

    Pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. I need one please

    I would like a Black Mustang

  • 0

    NetNinja

    I love Ford. I was there in their dealership about 4 weeks ago looking at the new Kuga.

    Ford has really had it tough in my opinion. Ford Escape has a Hybrid version but I've never seen one in Japan. My question is WHY NOT?

    Hybrids are really popular here so why wouldn't Ford have it's car here?
    Don't be silly and think....."Oh we really didn't think the time is right to take some of that money from Toyota" It's Protectionism and dirty capitalism in my opinion.

    Toyota even shared it's design with Honda, allowing them to develop the Insight. Now the roads are flooded with Hybrids. I'm hard-headed at times, nobody can tell me anything when I truly believe that Ford was shut out.

    What’s happening with hybrids? ** Ford has made a commitment to Asia and part of that is that we are rapidly globalizing hybrids, electric vehicles and we have the opportunity to bring those kinds of products into Japan when business conditions are right. Just a few years ago, that really wasn’t possible.<**

    You: "Come on, Net!! That's Timothy D Tucker, the PRESIDENT of Ford Japan Ltd. You're not even a car saleman"

    Money is money. You'd lose your job if you walk into a shareholders meeting and say "Hey, we don't need to make money in Japan, we're doing alright". Head on a chopping block.

    People I'm talking about Market Share, a piece of the Hybrid pie.

    Ford has improved so MUCH. That new Kuga is beautiful and Tim, I AM going to buy one. I want nothing else. I just hope Ford will be more aggressive and get the Japanese Government to open the door to trade and competitive capitalism. Right now, government officials I SPECULATE, have been bought. It's an uphill battle for Ford, but it's not cause of their vehicles. KUGA is awesome!!

  • 2

    tokyokawasaki

    Ford and luxury in the same sentence. No wonder they don't sell many cars, they don't even understand their target on product profile.

    Ford has two prime categories

    1 = cheap mass produced entry level motoring (some of these models like the Focus are excellent general purpose motors) 2 = Heavy poor handling gas guzzling monsters

    When I think cars & luxury I think: Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls etc, etc... I would never think of Ford.

  • 1

    electric2004

    Last year I was driving a quite new Ford Focus rent-a-car in Germany for 2 weeks. I was surprise that the small manual shift engine (1.6 Liter), even when driving moderately, consumed 10 liters of fuel per 100km.

    For a rent-a-car the experience was good enough, but this way I know I should never buy a Ford.

    On the contrary, this year, I had a really new BMW rent-a-car (was running only 200km before), a 320 type, and to my surprise this much more powerful BMW consumed only less than 7 liters of fuel per 100 km.

    Much higher quality standard, like day and night. Maybe Japanese consumers know it. At least in the lab where I am working, several people are driving 3-Series BMW here in Japan. But Ford? Definitely less than 1 in 100.

    Actually not so big a surprise, because some engine designs made by Ford are already quite old. Most of it (as sold or made in Germany or European countries nearby) are cheap cars for the masses. These types of cars (Focus, Kuga, Fusion) would fit into the Japanese market, but probably they can not compete with the prices the Japanese customer wants to pay, and the performance and quality he expects.

    Why should somebody buy a Ford, if he can get a better Mazda for a more reasonable price?

  • -1

    techall

    @Tokokawaski:

    Explorer, Mustang, Escape and Lincoln models are in fact luxury cars.

    @electric2004:

    some engine designs made by Ford are already quite old

    Ford completely redesigned many of their engines this year and now have some of the lightest most powerful engines around and are compatable with E15 fuel (15% ethanol).

  • 0

    Hide Suzuki

    "Ford has improved so MUCH". LOL, great, so they suck less now.

  • 0

    tokyokawasaki

    techall - The Explorer, Mustang, Escape and Lincoln fall into my category 2.

    Also, how is a Mustang a luxury car? Just because it may cost more than a family saloon does not automatically qualify as being a luxury car. Does it?

  • 0

    electric2004

    Techall:

    Thanks for the comment.

  • -2

    johninnaha

    Ford?

  • 0

    sfjp330

    lectric2004Jul. 19, 2011 - 01:00PM JST. Actually not so big a surprise, because some engine designs made by Ford are already quite old. Most of it (as sold or made in Germany or European countries nearby) are cheap cars for the masses.

    Old as in what? Do you know anything about engines? Actually, Ford has one of the newer designs on their 4 cylinders, V6 3.5's & 3.7, the Mustang V8's are terrific. They are very good reliable engines and inexpensive to repair. On the other hand, the BMW inline 6 cylinder engine is quite old, about 30-40 years old design and very expensive to repair. When they modified their 335i, they initially used the old Mitsubishi designed 3000GT twin turbo with the lower boost to get 300hp. BMW now use their own design. The Benz with the C230 engine design, what a mess, if you have to replace the steel timing chain at a cost of over $6000 dollars, you have to take the entire motor out,and this is one of the poorest design. If you have Ford or Toyota, or Honda, it cost few hundred dollars to replace the timing belt. I really don't know how you got such a poor gas milage, but when I rented a Ford Focus recently, had excellent milage and performance. Ford makes good cars.

  • -2

    NetNinja

    I think most of you need to do some research. Ford Kuga has a 2.5litre Duratec Turbo engine, leather interior and glass overhead sunroof at about the same price as a Japanese compact SUV.

    Why is it more expensive? Cause it's sitting on a C1 base frame that was developed by Volvo engineers for enhanced safety

    TokyoKawasaki you can make Ford jokes all day long. You better wake up. I haven't bought a Japanese car in over 10 years. I won't buy Japanese and watch my country's economy fall. Nope, going to watch your economy fall while my sister drives her new Ford cross country. You may not like Ford but at least the accelerator won't stick.

    You: Sounds like Nationalism? You Betcha!! Go take a ride in a Ford Kuga then sit in a Japanese car. It will feel cheap.

    Cheap is good, you say? Not everything cheap is good for your safety. I thought most of you would've figured that out by now. ( Checking the beef label )

  • 2

    Kwaabish

    Ford is not luxury. Perhaps their Lincoln line is borderline, but not the Ford label. Most of the world sees Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac etc., as luxury. I'd take a Lexus over a "luxury" Escape, Mustang or Explorer, any day. Or even a hecho en Mexico Ford Fusion.

  • 0

    SamuraiBlue

    it's kind of a shame, in the 70's American cars had the biggest share in import cars with I believe 300,000 units in total. Most black limos were American in those days. Since then American cars were not able to adapt when the oil shock demanded more smaller fuel efficient cars. I still remember when Honda with their Civic CVCC were first exported to the US which was the first to pass the Muskie Act which led the the vast amount of Japanese automobiles in the 80's.

  • -1

    johninnaha

    Now I remember!

    "Ford" is an automobile manufacturer isn't it?

    Are they still going?

  • 3

    tokyokawasaki

    netninja - what? You need to reread my posts. I never insulted Ford... Far from it. All I stated was that Ford is not considered a luxury car manufacturer.

    I agree that cars like the Ford Focus, Mondeo and Kuga are fantastic, but this does not make Ford a luxury car manufacturer (as the Ford Japan President seems to think).

    I used to drive a Toyota. Another good value for money non-luxury car.

  • 0

    sfjp330

    tokyokawasakiJul. 20, 2011 - 03:36PM JST. but this does not make Ford a luxury car manufacturer (as the Ford Japan President seems to think).

    Ford owns the Lincoln luxury lines. The MKX, Navigator, and other lines.

  • 0

    NetNinja

    My bad, TokyoKawasaki. As far as luxury goes. Just take an hour. Go to Ford and get in the high end version of Kuga. It has all the creatures comforts that you look for in a luxury car but masked and streamlined.

    Seriously, I took my hand and guided my fingers down the dash. Not a single knob or bump. Flush and smooth. Of course that design comes from Volvo. The engine, the smart design, the rear split hatchback (Volve C30). The leather interior and most importantly (what defines luxury today) the technology that's built in.

    Okay, it's too easy to see that I'm definitely buying this car in the near future BUT in fairness, I spent the whole day going to dealerships.....pretty much all of them. Every maker has a vehicle to compete against each other. Nobody can beat the Ford. In this country, where Shaken is so EXPENSIVE, if you are going to buy a car you better LOVE it. I mean really LOVE it. Otherwise, you'll be hitting yourself on the head wondering why I bought this Japanese tin can when I could've had strong American steel.

  • 0

    whiskeysour

    Please give me a black mustang for free

    Pleaseeeeeeee

  • 0

    Gurukun

    I want a F650!!!!!

  • 2

    Kwaabish

    Otherwise, you'll be hitting yourself on the head wondering why I bought this Japanese tin can when I could've had strong American steel.

    If you're thinking about getting "strong American steel" luxury, you're better off getting a BMW X3 made in S. Carolina since the Kuga is manufactured in Saarlouis, Deutschland...

  • 0

    NetNinja

    ExportExpert - Okay Mr. CarTalk. Hope you are listening every Saturday morning.

    What do YOU drive?

    You see Ford is here. Front and center, open to praise and criticism. What are you driving? Lets talk about how your car is compared to a Ford.

  • 0

    electric2004

    NetNinja:

    Actually, Ford has one of the newer designs on their 4 cylinders, V6 3.5's & 3.7, the Mustang V8's are terrific.

    Sorry, it seems these are engines designed for the American market, which I have not seen on the smaller Ford models sold in Germany. So I have to agree, I don't know about these engines.

    If driving the Ford Focus at a speed of less than 100km/h on the highway, the rpm of the engine are not so high, and I assume the consumption is lower. However, I was driving in between 120 and 130 km/h on the highway, a quite normal speed in Germany and even in highest gear I got the feeling the rpm of the engine is unnecessary high. And this was confirmed at the gas station.

    Talking about BMW. I had no idea about a 335. I thought the biggest engine for the 3-series is the 328. But might be again, that models for the American market are different than models for the European or German market.

    The BMW 320 I was riding had 170 hp power written in the operating license. Actually same as my Mazda Capella I am riding in Japan. Also 2 Liter engine, 170 hp.

    Fuel consumption of the Mazda Capella is not so good, but acceptable. When driving no highways, only local roads, then approximately 10 liter / 100 km. When using highways, consumption drops to 8 liters / 100 km.

  • 0

    presto345

    Fuel consumption of the Mazda Capella is not so good, but acceptable. When driving no highways, only local roads, then approximately 10 liter / 100 km. When using highways, consumption drops to 8 liters / 100 km.

    Fuel consumption is important, of course, for Fords as well as other makes! My 3.0 liter V6-24v Citroen returns 8 liters / 100 km on the motorway too :-)

  • -2

    JeffLee

    A Mustang with a 2.0L liter engine and 20% shorter wheelbase would be a hit in Japan, I reckon.

  • 0

    Novenachama

    The Americans cannot manufacture quality cars except when a car such as the Ford Kuga is assembled in their plant at Saarlouis, Germany. Although their trucks manufactured by GM and Ford are stellar. I like the sexy Mustang and the slick Corvette Stingray. The Lincoln and Cadillac are nice luxury cars. But unfortunately the reality is that many of the American Automobiles don't last and consequently their resale value is nil. Some Americans cars have devalued as much as 70% therefore nobody wants them because the quality is horrible. If you want strong trade in value and the ability to get a new car when you need one, just buy a Japanese or German car. It's simple as that. As for myself, I'm in love with European cars. I've never owned an American car. I've had a couple of Japanese luxury cars and they were nice. Hence the only real hope in American cars is in the trucks, but the cars assembled in Europe seem to do well. I wonder why? I guess it's all about the quality. I don't claim to know much about cars and certainly not a expert.

  • 0

    gyouza

    Hmmm, probably a very misguided Ford representative? Does he not knwo of the incredible stranglehld in the EU markets that Ford have with cars that people buy because tehy are actually good? Mondeo, Fiesta, S-Max are market leaders for a good reason, they are good cars! Bring them here, dump the cars that only sell 3,000 units a year, and start making money!

    "If you try to sell a right-hand drive Explorer to a customer, they wouldn’t buy it because it is an American product. They don’t want it changed." - Proof that this guy misses the market. Bentley and Rolls Royce are prime examples of the absolute opposite of this - the cars are British (right hand drive), but people want to buy them left hand drive for "status". It is a limited market, so try to shift to the models that people want!!!!

    I drove a hired Mustang in Guam and was amazed by the steering and brakes all being connected by what seemed to be sponges!!

  • 1

    papasmurfinjapan

    Ford is perceived as an American luxury, near-premium brand.

    That is the funniest quote I have seen for a long time. Most Japanese I know wouldn't touch a Ford with a 10 foot pole.

  • -1

    papasmurfinjapan

    Oh I forgot about the Mondeo gyouza mentions... that's about the only ford I think may sell well in Japan - and the only one I'd consider myself. Japanese makers have very few premium wagons (Honda Accord Tourer, Mazda Atenza Wagon, Subaru Legacy are the only 3 I can think of - I wouldn't put the cheaper Toyota Fielder and Nissan Wingroad in the same category).

    Euro wagons (BMW, Merc, Audi, Volvo, VW) sell quite well in Japan, so I think an aggressively priced and marketed Mondeo would give the overpriced Euro cars a run for their money.

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