FRANKFURT - Earl Hesterberg sees his job as Ford of Europe marketing chief in simple terms: Ford has great products, but not enough people know about them.
'Our vehicles have advanced so much in recent years, but some of our models are a well kept secret,' he said. 'We're finding when we can get customers to come in and drive Ford products, they're very much surprised by what they find. So we really have a marketing job to do to raise awareness out there.'
Lackluster sales have hurt Ford's profits in Europe. Hesterberg, 46, was brought in to be an integral part of Ford of Europe President Nick Scheele's turnaround team.
Hesterberg came to Ford of Europe with a glowing resume. He first gained auto industry recognition in 1991 when he turned around a sagging Nissan Division in the USA with a combination of sharp product planning and positioning, smart marketing and people skills.
Since then, he performed similar magic at Nissan Europe and pumped up sales during a brief stint with Toyota's independent Gulf States distributor. He started his career in 1975 with Ford.
The affable, plain-spoken Hesterberg, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, clearly relishes the challenge of selling cars in brutally competitive Europe.
'We have to be more effective in our marketing,' he said. 'That's not as easy in Europe as it is in the USA where you can load up on television and very quickly get a message across to your target audience. In Europe a lot of the communication, by its very nature, has to be much more local.'
Hesterberg believes Ford's newer products make a strong statement that requires no words.
In particular the Ford Focus, Ford's new lower-medium car, has done a lot to enhance the Ford brand with a distinctive 'new edge' look, he said.
Focus helps put Ford on people's shopping lists, he said.
'The vehicle itself becomes an advertisement,' he said.
Mark Rechtin contributed