Ford Motor Company's European arm plans to shake off its dull image as it seeks to shore up sales.

For the last five years, Ford has adopted a conservative approach in its European car designs to dispel its reputation for poor quality. Lewis Booth, who became European president/chief operating officer in the summer, believes it has achieved this aim and now needs to focus on style.

"In terms of rational values we are among the best," Booth told managers. "But we need sex appeal."

Ford's reputation for reliability may have improved over recent years, but sales have not. The European arm posted pre-tax losses of $1.2 billion (€1.0bn; £0.7bn) in the first nine months of 2003 and ceded market share to Japanese competitors.

Booth's comments were echoed by head of product development Derrick Kuzak. "We have got a very rational brand and it is driven by dependability and driving dynamics," he declared. "What we need to add is a personality, emotion."

Kuzak has introduced what he terms the "100 metres test", whereby any Ford model should be recognisable as a Ford from 100 metres away.

The auto giant has already taken some steps in this direction with its StreetKa convertible. But although Ford will now seek to be more adventurous with its mainstream models, Booth insists the company will stop short of aggressive, "love it or hate it" designs.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff