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San Francisco February 1, 2003; The incentive level is here to stay in some form as long as we have overcapacity," said keynote speaker William Clay Ford, Ford Motor Co. CEO, in a press conference after Saturday’s opening session."Incentives are good for customers and good for Ford."

Ford was treated like automotive royalty before his speech, starting with a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the company founded by his great-grandfather and ending with fireworks, and a giant birthday cake.

With observations such as that retailers have been "vital members of our company since the time it started," Ford’s speech drew frequent applause from dealers. When he became chairman four years ago, Ford vowed to get back to the basics, "and having a strong dealer body was at the top of that list."

On a subject near to his heart—environmental issues—Ford called for tax credits to encourage consumers to buy fuel-cell vehicles, He also supports letting companies trade emissions credits as a way to encourage development of cleaner technology.

Ford chief operating officer Allan Gilmour told reporters after the speech, "The dealer body thought in recent years that Ford was untrustworthy." But now "it’s important that we keep our word," and with the December Blue Oval announcement, "we did."

And Jim O’Connor, group vice-president, North America Marketing, Sales, and Service, said Ford is watching for a possible anti-SUV backlash. "There is some noise in the marketplace, but consumers want to have some choice."

Story Courtesy NADA