Ford

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picked another executive Thursday to take a stab at turning around its struggling domestic unit.

The No. 2 automaker put Mark Fields in charge of its North American operations. The appointment, along with a flurry of other executive moves, will be effective Oct. 1.

Greg Smith, the former North American chief, was named a Ford vice chairman.

Fields, currently executive vice president of Ford of Europe and Premier Automotive Group, was named president of the Americas division. He will run Ford's largest business operation, which includes the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands.

"Mark Fields is one of our most experienced, capable and proven leaders, with high-level experience in all of our most critical automotive operations," said Bill Ford, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor. "His next challenge is to lead the Americas automotive operations back to a sustained level of profitability while producing the best cars and trucks in the industry."

Fields has his work cut out for him. After drumming up sales this summer through an "employee discount" program that also boosted

GM's

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results, the company disclosed disappointing August volume last week.

"Ford's challeneges go way beyond one person," said Efraim Levy, an equity analyst at Standard and Poor's. "It will become a team effort in delivering products that consumer wants. It is not about the incentives, marketing, or deep employee discounts; it is about the product."

Spiking gasoline prices pose a further threat, boding poorly for sales of the sport-utility vehicles and monster pickups that currently crowd Ford's lots.

In late August, Moody's Investors Service cut its ratings on Ford and General Motors to junk. Currently only Fitch, one of the big three rating agencies, has an investment-grade rating on either company. The downgrade affected almost $150 billion of Ford debt.

In other appointments, Mark Schulz, executive vice president of Ford Motor responsible for Asia-Pacific, Africa and Mazda, was named president of international operations. Greg Smith, executive vice president of Ford Motor and president of the Americas, was elected vice chairman of the company and will report to Bill Ford.