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David Mondragon lis eaving Ford Canada in top spot.

Keith Srakocic/AP

When David Mondragon took over the helm at Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. in August, 2008, the company was languishing in third spot in the Canadian sales race on its way to finishing the year in the No. 4 position.

As the company announced on Tuesday that Mr. Mondragon will return to Ford Motor Co. headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., its Canadian unit stood in first place, displacing long-time market leader General Motors of Canada Ltd. and ahead of Toyota Canada Inc., which appeared three years ago to be a juggernaut making a run at the sales title.

Ford's performance and Mr. Mondragon's tenure coincide with the upheaval that transformed the North American auto industry, beginning with the recession of 2008-09 and the bankruptcy filings of Ford's main rivals, Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp.; the recall crisis that shook Toyota; and the earthquake and tsunami that battered all Japanese auto makers this year.

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Through that period of stunning change, Ford Canada boosted market share, helped mainly by a bet-the-company decision by Alan Mulally, chief executive officer of parent Ford Motor. Mr. Mulally devised a plan to borrow tens of billions of dollars, which enabled Ford to maintain investment in new vehicles and technology through the crisis while rivals were cutting back.

And so, in a market where small cars are crucial and segments in which Ford had been an also-ran or a no-show for years, Mr. Mondragon was blessed with a redesigned Focus compact and a new Fiesta subcompact to take on perennial leaders Honda Canada Inc. and Toyota.

Those cars helped to pull Ford's market share to 17.9 per cent at the end of September, up from 12 per cent when he started. (Each point of market share represents about 15,000 vehicles.)

Mr. Mondragon, whose entire career has been spent with Ford, has been appointed general marketing manager for the company's Ford and Lincoln divisions in the United States.

His replacement, Dianne Craig, is a 25-year Ford veteran who has been general manager for the southeast U.S. market area since March, 2009. Ms. Craig is the second woman president in Ford Canada's history and the third woman to be chief executive officer of a major auto maker in Canada.

Her main job will be maintaining the momentum that has carried Ford Canada to sales leadership, said Bob Bentley, who owns Freedom Ford Sales in Edmonton. "Hopefully she can maintain that rapport that's been established among the dealers and carry on with the competitiveness that has generated the share of market and the momentum that we've all enjoyed," Mr. Bentley said.

He said Mr. Mondragon was well respected by dealers because he understood their part of the business and communicated effectively with them.

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Holding market share or increasing it will be a tough challenge in a fiercely competitive market.

Honda, Toyota and other Japan-based auto makers have been affected by shortages of vehicles for much of the year because the earthquake and tsunami disrupted their supply chains, which meant that production was severely curtailed at plants in Japan and North America.

Production is now back at full speed at Honda and Toyota's Canadian plants and Honda is raising production of its redesigned Civic compact in Alliston, Ont., and another plant in Greensburg, Ind.

Chrysler is gearing up to produce a new compact next year that figures to make it more of a presence in a segment where it trails the leaders badly.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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