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Fields: Ford will stand by Mazda

TOKYO - Mazda Motor Corp. still has friends in high places within Ford Motor Co., Mazda President Mark Fields says.

"Bill Ford ... is very supportive of us," Fields told a small group of journalists last week.

Less than two weeks before his ouster as Ford CEO, Jacques Nasser sent an e-mail message to all Mazda employees praising their restructuring efforts. Speculation then swirled in Japan that Fields might be linked too closely to the old regime.

The rise of Nick Scheele, Ford's new COO and president of Ford Automotive Operations, also was seen as a potential problem for Mazda. Scheele came from Ford of Europe, which never has been tied as closely to Mazda as Ford North America.

Scheele, though, quickly sent his own e-mail message in support of Mazda and Fields.

Fields said Ford, which owns 33.8 percent of Mazda, has some concrete reasons for sticking by its Japanese partner.

"I think our working relationship will strengthen more. Mazda's strength in manufacturing will be appreciated more within Ford," he said. Although he didn't say so, Ford will be looking for cost-saving efficiencies wherever it can, including in manufacturing.

"Jim Padilla … understands fairly intimately our manufacturing approach," Fields said.

Padilla, Ford's new chief of North American operations, worked closely with Mazda on the 1991 Ford Escort program, then known as the CT20 program. One of his top counterparts at Mazda at the time was Kei Kado, Mazda's senior managing director in charge of r&d and quality assurance.

In addition, Martin Leach, Ford of Europe's product development chief, formerly held that position at Mazda.

As for his own plans, Fields said he intends to stay with Mazda to see its Millennium Plan restructuring completed.

"I plan on sticking around," Fields said. But he declined to say for how long: "I'm not going to get pinned down."

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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