Ford Hits The Road To Tout C-MAX

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Ford is in the midst of a six-month hybrid and electric-car boom. The Dearborn, Mich. automaker is rolling out five new electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, and is about to put a big spotlight on the newest, the C-MAX. The first entrant in the new nameplate, which launched three weeks ago, was the C-MAX hybrid. Later this year Ford will introduce the second C-MAX, a plug-in hybrid variant called C-MAX Energi. 

To back the new nameplate, as well as the full line of Ford's fuel-efficient cars, the company is running two road shows. The first -- under the aegis of the "Power of Choice" campaign that launched in April -- is hitting huge lifestyle events in major markets around the country to give consumers a chance to compare, drive and learn about the vehicles with eco-boost, electric hybrid, and plug-in powertrains. 

The other tour focuses solely on the C-MAX cars, bringing them to key markets where there are progressive, environmentally conscious consumers. For this, "there will be anchor events in major spots, and those are supported by kind of a 'lite' version that visits places like farmers' markets and Whole Foods-type places, where like-minded individuals spend time," says Michael O’Brien, electrification marketing manager at Ford. "Not everyone can make it to the major events, so this helps us." 

The C-MAX and C-MAX Energi follow the introduction earlier this year of the Focus Electric. There will also be a 2013 Fusion hybrid and Fusion Energi and hybrid to round out the five. O'Brien tells Marketing Daily that the tours hit markets like Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County and Boston, Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia. 

The "Power of Choice" tour has visited (and will visit) events like the D.C. Green Festival, A Taste of Colorado, Live Green Connecticut, the Miramar Air Show and San Francisco Green Festival, and includes a side-by-side comparison of the Ford C-MAX Hybrid and the Toyota Prius, including displays that highlight key vehicle attributes including a look at Ford’s battery electric and plug-in hybrid technologies.  

The "Difference" tour offers road course comparisons of the C-MAX Hybrid to the Prius, with a donation going to the local United Way chapter for each test drive. Consumers who attend the events can enter a sweepstakes drawing for a two-year lease of the C-MAX Hybrid.

"The 'Go Further' tour really hits mega consumer events, green festivals and air shows, and lobster fests -- these big events that bring in hundreds of thousands of people," says O'Brien. "'Make a Difference' is more local, community-focused and and social. But they complement each other very well. We are finding that not only have a lot of folks never heard of C-MAX  but many have not considered a Ford. So this helps us build awareness." He adds that shortly after launching the "Go Further" TV campaign launched in April, C-MAX was the number-one searched vehicle on Ford's consumer site. "We have been really encouraged by the buzz."

O'Brien says the C-MAX, based on a European-market vehicle platform, and boasting 47 mpg city and highway, is positioned in a space that's between competitor Prius and Prius v wagon. "Launching a new nameplate is heavy lifting," he says. "But senior management is committed; we will be doing this across all media." (More on the bigger marketing plan next week.) 

The Focus Electric car was first rolled out in California and New York early this year, but will be marketed in all 50 contiguous states by year's end, per O'Brien. But pure electric cars like Focus Electric, Nissan's Leaf and Honda Fit EV face an uphill climb. A new report from J.D. Power and Associates, the 2012 US BEV Market Study, says that while awareness of battery electric vehicles models is relatively high, just 2% of vehicle owners say their next purchase or lease would most likely include a battery electric powertrain. By contrast, 71% of owners indicate that their next purchase or lease will most likely be a traditional gas or diesel vehicle. Intent to purchase a hybrid electric vehicle is second, at 23%.

Consideration for such vehicles is also much higher among vehicle owners in urban locations -- 46% compared with 35% of owners who live in rural areas and 34% who live in suburban areas, notes the firm.

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