DETROIT, April 22 (UPI) -- Ford Motor Co. last week announced a series of management changes in the automaker's core North American operations to revive the company's key market.
Effective Wednesday, Lincoln and Mercury brands return to the North American group and Ford Vice President Mark Fields will take over the remaining European Premier Group brands, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Land Rover, from Wolfgang Reitzle.
Reitzle, 53, is resigning from Ford to head the German conglomerate Linde AG, a leading engineering company. Reitzle was hired by former Ford Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser in 1999 after 23 years with BMW AG and was the first head of the luxury automobile group, which included Lincoln and Mercury.
While Ford is discontinuing the Lincoln Continental, the automaker is rolling out several new Lincoln and Mercury models in a bid to freshen and revive both brands, which accounted for the largest share of the luxury car group's sales and revenue.
"We are committed to the Premier Automobile Group strategy," William Clay Ford Jr., chairman and CEO, said Friday. "These brands are strong and that strength stems from exceptional products and talented people, a combination that will deliver outstanding results going forward."
The world's No. 2 automaker began stepping up the pace of top management changes in January after losing $5.4 billion in 2001. Ford lost another $800 million in the first-quarter of 2002 but hopes reorganizing and cost-cutting will allow it to break-even.
Fields, 41, headed a turnaround at Mazda Motor Corp., Ford's Japanese partner, with vehicles like the Mazda 6 and RX-8. He will be succeeded as Mazda CEO by Lewis Booth, who was elected a Ford company vice president.
The head of the Ford Division, James G. O'Connor, 59, will become group vice president North America marketing and sales overseeing Ford, Lincoln and Mercury. Steve Lyon, a 30-year company veteran, will take over the Ford Division as president.
In other automotive news, Toyota said it has sold more than 100,000 hybrid vehicles since 1997, including about 73,000 in Japan.
Toyota introduced the environmentally friendly, gasoline-electric Prius sedan and Coaster bus in December 1997 and is exporting 20,000 Prius cars to North American this year.
Honda introduced its hybrid Civic in the U.S. and still sells the subcompact two-seat Insight coupe.
Toyota controls nearly 90 percent of the hybrid market with 102,967 units sold as of March 31 and last year introduced the hybrid Estima minivan and a hybrid version of the Crown luxury sedan.
Toyota hopes to sell 300,000 hybrid vehicles in North America, Europe and Japan by 2005.