Ford sees Fusion as image-changer

NOTE: WHILE GM APPEARS TO BE MUDDLING THROUGH THESE TOUGH TIMES, FORD REMAINS FOCUSED ON BOTH PRODUCT AND MESSAGE. CREDIT ALAN MULALLY ON THE PRODUCT/BUSINESS SIDE AND MARKETING GURU JIM FARLEY ON THE MESSAGE…DP

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Ford sees Fusion as image-changer
‘We speak car’ ad blitz tonight on ‘American Idol’ helps launch firm’s midsize gas, hybrid cars.
Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co. is hoping the launch of its new Ford Fusion and Fusion Hybrid sedan will change the way American consumers think about the company.

The message of the new advertising campaign, which is scheduled to debut tonight on “American Idol,” is simple: “We speak car.”

“We’re known as a truck and Mustang company,” said Matt Van Dyke, director of U.S. marketing communications for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury. “This sets us up for our future car launches.”

And Ford has at least half a dozen of those planned over the next couple of years, starting with these redesigned versions of its mid-sized sedans.

The introduction of the 2010 Fusion and Fusion Hybrid will include a marketing campaign designed to take the fight to the competition — in this case, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., whose mid-sized sedans dominate this critical segment of the U.S. car market.

According to Ford’s market research, only 58 percent of American carbuyers recognize the Fusion name, compared to 91 percent for the Toyota Camry. Ford says much of that is due to the fact that the Camry has been sold for decades longer than the Fusion, which was introduced four years ago.

“The mid-sized car segment is critical to us and the industry,” said Chantel Lenard, Ford group marketing manager for global small and medium cars.

The segment is now the second largest in the United States. It is also one of the most competitive, with prospective buyers doing more cross-shopping than in any other segment.

So, Ford is focusing on the one thing it says consumers care about most: fuel economy. Ford’s research shows that the primary reason why consumers did not consider the Fusion in the past was because it got worse gas mileage than rival offerings. That is why it will trumpet the fact that its new Fusion gets four more miles to the gallon than the Honda Accord and three more miles to the gallon than the Camry.

“They’ve hit the right buttons,” said analyst Stephanie Brinley of AutoPacific Inc., though she added that she is not sure about the imagery used in the new commercials, which puts the cars against a white backdrop and does not show people interacting with them. “It gives people the opportunity to see themselves in the car. But on the other hand, sometimes it’s harder to see how it fits into your life.”

Ford also announced pricing for the new Fusions Monday: the standard version will start at $19,995, while pricing for the hybrid will begin at $27,995. Pricing for the 2010 Mercury Milan, which is built on the same platform, will start at $21,905, while the Milan Hybrid will start at $31,300.

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