Ford's Odell Talks Global Performance And How Focus RS Will Help

Ford stunned at the New York Auto Show press days with Lincoln Continental on the luxury side, and Focus RS, a hot-tempered rocket that the automaker is counting on for bringing in a new buyer and giving some spice to the compact car nameplate. And next year Ford is bringing back its super car, the GT. And there’s Mustang, which is now not just a domestic, but a global four-wheeled ambassador for Ford. The automaker also posted its best retail sales month in nine years in March.

Marketing Daily caught up with Stephen Odell, who switched places with Jim Farley this year to become Ford EVP of global marketing, sales, and service, (Farley now is Ford’s EVP and president of Europe, Middle East and Africa) to chat about U.S. and global ambitions, and how cars like Focus RS will help drive results. 

Q: Is the U.S. market more challenging for Ford than Europe?

A: I think you start with view that it's competitive everywhere. One of the big variables is size of market versus capacity in place. North America’s economy is clearly on an upward trajectory. Europe is showing more gradual recovery. In Europe, unemployment is still high, and that's a principal difference. The unique challenge for me is to build on the fantastic job that [Farley] and the team did here. We have to get a plethora of launches done this year, and so many more to come. We have to do it right, and not just tick the boxes. 

Q: Are you still putting big marketing dollars against F-Series?

A: No, not really. That was the case a few months ago. But now a lot of F-Series marketing is really word of mouth, and so much of what we are doing is with 60-second Web-based information. Now we have to launch the [Lincoln] MKX, and 2016 Edge crossovers, and are still in early throes of Focus with major refreshening at the end of last year. That's where RS will help us because it's a Focus. 

Q: Along those lines, are you going to do a performance-focused campaign against RS, and maybe even GT as halo cars? 

A: We aren't going to do that, but I don’t think there is anything wrong in using RS Focus in communications to talk about the full Focus product lineup.   

Q: You didn’t do the Super Bowl this year, but where does that kind of big stage make sense?

A: Well, for the global [UEFA] Champions League, we did put a Mustang communication in because we weren't sure of the awareness of Mustang in Europe. Well, we probably wasted our money, because Mustang has 500,000 people there signed up already to configure the product online. In China we had five million people signed up. And 18,000 want a test drive. And we can't even build that many right now. 

Q: What’s the role of Mustang globally for Ford?

A: It's both a halo car for the brand, and of course, it's a car unto itself. Actually, we found out when we started talking about Mustang going global that it already is global. There are Mustang clubs and owner clubs in Poland, Sweden -- you name it. And these people have already been importing the car themselves. But for me, in Europe, it was never only about selling x-thousands of Mustangs -- it's about the opportunity to elevate perception of the brand.   

Q: You just showed the new Focus RS sports car. It’s a global sports car, but what does Focus RS do for Ford here in the U.S.? 

A: The RS does a number of key things. it really polishes the oval around high technology, high innovation, racing performance and design. It attracts people to buy the RS, but also look to the brand. In Europe, 65% of those who buy an RS have never looked at a Ford before. And here in the U.S., where the [sport-tuned] Focus ST is the best example, 25% to 30% are not traditional Ford drivers. And it skews younger as well.

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