Ford Sees First-Mover Advantage In CARS Program

John Felice Ford's new program to get consumers into showrooms by helping to untangle the government's Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save (CARS) program is getting a marketing boost with national ads, direct-marketing, and dealership efforts. A big part of the push was educating employees and dealers.

John Felice, the automaker's general marketing manager, sent a memo to employees last week that included a video from Jim Farley, group VP of marketing. Farley said messaging about Ford's "Recycle your Ride" program won't supersede marketing plans for vehicles like the forthcoming 2010 Taurus.

"Frankly, what we learned from [the Cash for Clunkers programs in] Germany and the UK is, the most important thing to talk to customers about is the new lineup of product: 50% of sales volume this year is products we weren't even selling last year," he said. Felice echoes those themes in a discussion with Marketing Daily.

Q: You guys turned this around pretty fast. You launched the "Recycle your Ride" program a few days after the bill was passed. When did you start working on this?

A: This has been months in the planning. Our government affairs team was actively involved in helping to work with the government on shaping the legislation, so we were very involved and engaged in the development of it.

Our collective marketing and sales team was putting plans together and working with dealers, so we had confidence in the program -- and again, since we were engaged in working with the government on the program, we were really ready to go.

Q: Is your optimism tempered by the four-month duration of the CARS program?

A: [Take rate] is going to be hard to predict in terms of direct impact on the industry, but we are bullish. We think it will have a positive effect. If you do compare and contrast, in Europe, the scrappage programs have added around half a million units, and if you analyze the program in the U.S., with the government having set aside a billion dollars in funding, and if you look at the numbers who are eligible and take a weighted average, it would imply at least 250,000 units.

Q: How about Ford's share? How bullish are you about the potential for CARS and "Recycle your Ride" to boost sales?

A: We have taken a look at that. It's hard to predict, but we would hope to do better than the going market share for three reasons: We have very high numbers of UIO (units in operation) in the U.S. -- that potentially qualify; second, it could not come at a more opportune time for us, since we have all-new products that are highly fuel-efficient -- a total of 20 vehicles with very strong fuel economy; and, three, we are doing everything we can to become experts on this program and help dealers and consumers understand it as well.

Q: How much of a boost do you think you'll get simply being a first mover in marketing this?

A: Being first mover is never a bad thing. What we have found from dealer feedback is that even last weekend, customers had begun coming into showrooms asking about the program. So we need to answer questions and bring clarity. While final details of the program are being hammered over the next 30 days, there is ambiguity in the program -- consumers are asking things like whether they should even buy a new vehicle now, or wait until August when the program starts.

Q: How are you talking to dealers about this?

A: We have developed POP for dealers with Q&A distributed already. We have a have video segment from Jim Farley and we have launched the resources on Ford.com, tools for consumers and employees that lets them enter their vehicle model and find out if they qualify.

Q: You have the site on Ford.com, but what about advertising?

A: We have a very robust plan for that. We are in a first-mover position in terms of getting communications out, and I can say we will be very, very aggressive in the marketplace. And there will be direct communications with consumers that will be very specific about the program, since this lends itself to targeting consumers directly.

Q: Will this be its own campaign, or will the "Recycle your Ride" message be rolled into product marketing?

A: At this point we are looking at what level we want to integrate it into marketing plans on different channels, but we won't be stepping away from the new products we have coming and that are in showrooms today. We are in the midst of major launch plans, with vehicles like Taurus arriving at dealerships, so we are not going to lose the plot on emphasizing great new products.

Q: So what is the most important question consumers want answered about the CARS program?

A: I think the most confusing thing is, "Do I qualify?" The thing that's most important to us in this program is the heightened awareness around fuel economy, emissions standards, and our new vehicles, so for us it couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

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