automotive

Ford Readies C-Max To Fill 'White Space'

Ford C-MAX

At least two automakers are bringing in new smaller vehicles to market. Ford Motor Co., extending its "One Ford" program to integrate global operations, will bring a seven-seat small wagon called C-Max to the U.S. market. The automaker unveiled the sporty hatchback at the Frankfurt Motor Show last week, saying it would be in U.S. showrooms in 2011.

The company is calling the car a "white-space" vehicle because it fills a need that few other vehicles do. With that introduction, Ford will offer customers in North America three distinct models in the compact segment: Fiesta, Focus and C-Max.

Ford says small cars are a growth segment that has risen from less than 15% of the U.S. market in 2004 to nearly 22% through August.

The car -- a mix of wagon and minivan qualities -- has as its closest competitive vehicle the Mazda5, which is a bit more minivan-like, but still has the diminutive stance and sleek posture of a wagon. As for Mazda, it says it will bring a new subcompact car, to be called Mazda2, to the U.S. beginning in late 2010.

Dan Gorrell, president of Tustin, Calif.-based Auto Stratagem, says that, particularly for Detroit, the right vehicle -- even for a white- -- space segment, just might not be enough. Success rests on consumer trust.

Interbrand's U.S. CEO Andy Bateman struck the same chord when discussing the most critical elements of brand value during economic doldrums. In the just-released Interbrand rank of global brands, not one automaker, except for Ferrari, saw its brand value actually increase. Most saw their scores, based on financial performance and brand performance, take major falls.

"It's the first emotional requirement that people have in any relationship with another person or institution. It suggests that in a product -- particularly one that is expensive, like a car -- the customer will be satisfied it really gives confidence in the future."

He says Ford still trails Honda and Toyota, but may have pulled ahead of Chrysler and Chevy. "I think in terms of communication of new products like the new Fiesta, the Focus or C-Max, it is critical that in the midst of talking about what's new and beneficial to customers there is a subtle message that you can trust them -- that they are doing well in consumer surveys, that their products not only look good, but are getting third-party endorsements.

"That's starting to develop. The idea is to get beyond thinking of trust as boring -- trust is an enabler, you can talk about styling and features, but nobody is going to put the vehicle on their shopping list if they don't trust the brand."

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