Here is a look at some of Tuesday's top business stories:
Ads to highlight Ford heritage
DETROIT, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Bill Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford and tire magnate Harvey Firestone, plans to be Ford's Lee Iaccoca, pitching Ford products in broadcast and print ads.
Ford on Tuesday unveiled four, 60-second television spots he calls "home videos" that play up the company's nearly 100-year heritage.
The automaker, which celebrates its centennial in 2003, is in the midst of a traumatic restructuring program after losing $5.45 billion last year. The company last month said it will cut 35,000 jobs worldwide -- 21,500 positions in North America -- and close five plants.
"The pride is coming back, and we're going to make it even stronger," Chairman and CEO William Clay Ford Jr. told reporters at a news conference/pep rally Tuesday afternoon at world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
Ford announced that it will build a modern version of the legendary GT-40 two-seat racecar that took first, second and third place at the 24 hours of Le Mans in France in 1966. GT40s also won Le Mans in 1967, 1968 and 1969.
"Our revitalization plan is centered on products," he said. "The company that builds and delivers the best cars and trucks wins, and we're going to win. I can't think of a better symbol of that winning attitude than the GT40."
The concept mid-engine, super car debuted at Detroit's International Auto Show in January.
"New products will keep the pride alive and keep it from turning into nostalgia," Ford told cheering employees.
At the other end of the product lineup, the $15,000 Ford Focus was named Best Compact car in Money Magazine's 2002 Annual Car Guide. Like GM and Chrysler, Ford has been offering cut-rate financing and rebates on most of its vehicles in a battle for market share.
Bill Ford will be pitchman in the new commercials, which air in primetime on Monday night. Print ads will come later.
Lee Iacocca's 1980s commercials for Chrysler are credited with helping save that company from bankruptcy.
Ford's ad campaign "No Boundaries" was in the works before Jacques Nasser was fired as president and chief executive officer. Bill Ford said he was no good at reading scripts so he just spoke from his heart. The tape was edited into four 60-second spots called "Legend, Discovery, Built Ford Tough and Family."
In the "Discovery" ad, Ford narrates historical footage showing his two great-grandfathers, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, joined by Thomas Edison and "whoever was the president" going on motorized camping trips way before sport utility vehicles were invented.
"Prior to the Model T, most people never traveled more than 20 miles from home in an entire lifetime," he says in the commercial for SUVs. "Built Ford Tough" touts the durability of Ford trucks.
"Ford products have been playing a role in consumers' lives for nearly 100 years, connecting them in very emotional ways," said Ford Division President Jim O'Connor. "These new Ford ads are designed to crystallize who we are and what we do."
Housing starts show strong gains
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Beating expectations, the construction of new housing units jumped by 6.3 percent in January, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Commerce said in a Tuesday release that housing starts increased to a seasonally adjusted 1.678 million units at an annual rate, or 6.3 percent up from December's revised 1.579 million starts.
This was the strongest percentage gain in nearly two years, analysts noted, and beat the consensus expectation of economist for a more modest rise of 1.60 million housing starts.
According to Commerce figures, the majority of these gains were in multi-family unit sector, which skyrocketed nearly 19 percent. While single-family units were up 4 percent.
Also, building permits, often a gauge of future building activity, gained nearly 3 percent to 1.706 million permits.
A Bank of America analyst noted that record levels of mortgage applications for home purchases point toward further strength in new home sales and rising residential construction early this year. The high level of housing activity will continue to support consumer spending on household durables.