The Right tries to steer Ford

The antigay American Family Association nearly changed the course of Ford Motor Co.’s commitment to equality. The feud with the country’s number 2 automaker is not finished

BY Todd Henneman

January 17 2006 1:00 AM ET

Allan Gilmour,
the gay retired vice chairman and chief financial officer
of Ford, says he is confident that the automaker’s
decision to nix the Jaguar and Land Rover ads was
driven by a retooled marketing strategy, not the
AFA’s threat of a boycott. He says Jaguar and Land
Rover had decided to change advertising tactics before
the AFA first made its threats. Jaguar, for example,
left its longtime ad agency Young and Rubicam in
February for rival Euro RSCG Worldwide in a well-publicized
shakeup geared at rejuvenating sales of the luxury car unit.

But even Gilmour,
who retired in 1994 after 34 years with the company,
only to be asked back in 2002 for another three-year stint,
acknowledges that he doesn’t know exactly what
was told to the AFA when Ford executives met with the
group. Several members of Ford’s LGBT employee
association declined to comment, referring questions to the
corporate headquarters, which also isn’t
talking. “We want the letter to speak for
itself,” says spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes.

Among those who
are relieved by Ford’s announcement are several
dealers who say they were unaware of the controversy
until after it made national headlines. “It
wasn’t like Ford kept us fully informed about what
was going on,” says Paul Thiel, managing
partner of Palm Springs Motors in Cathedral City,
Calif. Located next to a city where one in 10 couples
identify as gay, Palm Springs Motors has what Thiel calls a
“significant” gay clientele.

Joseph
Clapsaddle, public and community relations manager for
Hornburg Jaguar/Land Rover in West Hollywood, Calif.,
says he is “thrilled” that Ford will run
corporate ads.

The fight
doesn’t appear to be over. Wildmon maintains that his
organization and Ford had an agreement, which he says Ford
broke. “All we wanted was for Ford to refrain
from choosing sides in the cultural war,”
Wildmon said in a press release. “And supporting
groups which promote same-sex marriage is not
remaining neutral.”

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