TOKYO - Ford Motor Co. is replacing the Autorama name on most of its 286 dealer outlets in Japan with the Ford blue oval.
Ford has not announced the symbolic action, but officials acknowledged privately last week that the shift is under way and should be completed by the end of the year.
Ford co-owns the Autorama network with Mazda Motor Corp. Although the channel sells only Ford-brand vehicles, most are rebadged Mazdas that are produced in Japan.
The change seems to underscore Ford's growing clout in Mazda, in which it holds a 24.5 percent stake. The U.S. automaker has dispatched three senior executives to Mazda in a bid to help its Japanese partner return to profitability.
In 1992, Ford increased its ownership of Autorama to 45.1 percent, matching Mazda's share. Each company now has four representatives on Autorama's board.
The change comes as Ford is launching a major effort to increase sales of its U.S.-built vehicles in Japan. Backed by a big advertising thrust, Ford hopes to triple import volume, to 15,000 units, in 1994.
Ford-brand sales in Japan dropped 24 percent last year, to 45,105. But imports rose from 3,662 to 5,407, including gray-market vehicles and sales through official distribution channels other than Autorama.
Autorama imports rose 80 percent last year, to 4,231 units.
A Ford of Japan spokesman stressed that the distribution company will continue to be called Autorama. 'The issue is between the sales outlet and the customer,' said Hiroo Tanabe. 'The confusion has been between the name of the outlet and the name of the product,' not the name of the company.
Ford in Japan
'93 brand sales45,105 '93 imports5,407
'94 import goal15,000