Posted by: David Kiley on March 3, 2009
Ford finally has an aspirational passenger car besides the Mustang. It’s the Ford Fusion Hybrid.
Ford breaks advertising for the new hybrid sedan today on American Idol. The focus of the ads, naturally, is the car’s 41 mpg city fuel economy. According to Ford officials, the fact that the car tops 40 mpg was a huge hot button with shoppers in focus groups and one on one interviews.
It’s a good month for Ford. 70% of its vehicles overall were recommended by Consumer Reports in its annual shopping guide, compared with just 19% for GM and zip for Chrysler.
Honda and Toyota scored above 90%. But in the whole scheme of things, 70% is quite good given Ford’s large fleet. And it is heartening to know that Ford CEO Alan Mulally actually has a target of scoring 100% by 2011. Believe it or not, Ford hadn’t had that target before CEO Alan Mulally arrived in 2006.
Though Ford is as desperate as anyone to sell vehicles, it is being realistic about sales potential in the near-term.
Its new trio of 30-second spots, from WPP’s JWT Team Detroit, is aimed at what the “upper funnel,”—potential buyers down the road. The ads carry the theme “We speak car.”
Matt Van Dyke, Ford’s director-marketing communications, said 40% of Americans are still unaware of the brand, even though the midsize sedan has been on the market since 2005.
The only problem is that hybrids cost a premium over non hybrids—in the case of Fusion, it’s about $3,200—at a time when gas is about $2.20 a gallon or less. Hybrid sales have cooled off since gas prices came down from highs last summer.
There is an idea at team Detroit that by playing up the hybrid, and generating buzz around it, it will help overall sales of the Fusion.
The stakes are high for Ford. The mid-sized segment is about 15% of total sales these days, which is the second biggest segment in the marketplace.
Fusion has been very much a trailer to the Honda Accord and Toyota sales Camry juggernauts. Ford would like to change that, though it has no illusions about passing those models.
Having driven the 2010 Fusion Hybrid, I can attest to the fact that the car can stand tire to tire with Honda and Toyota and get you better fuel economy than either one by a wide margin.
Now, if the Recession would lift, and gas prices go back to $4.00, the Fusion Hybrid would be perfectly timed.