Ford Motor Takes On Competitors In New Test-Based Campaign

Ford Motor Co. pits its Fusion sedan directly against competitors Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in a new national campaign from JWT, Detroit. While the campaign may not convince Toyota or Honda die-hards to switch, marketing experts say the message may be able to sway buyers who are on the fence.

The ads encompass print, TV and Internet elements--and tout the Fusion's first-place ranking in a December ride-and-drive competition co-sponsored by Car and Driver magazine. The event pitted Fusion against Camry--the top-selling U.S. car for several years--and Accord. Some 600 subscribers rated the vehicles on parameters such as styling, handling and performance. There will be another such event on the West coast at the end of the month.

Two TV spots tout the results, and offer reactions of participants. Print ads use the tagline: "This test had a lot of turns and one big twist." The effort includes a Web site, where selected drivers share their stories about the Fusion.



Fusion is one of the bright spots for Ford, which saw overall vehicle sales slide 8% last year.

Automotive consultant Daniel Gorrell said the effort won't sway those already predisposed to Toyota and other models, but with its third-party endorsements from J.D. Power & Associates, and Strategic Vision (Gorrell's former firm), it's likely to reach those on the fence.

"The people who bought Fusion are expressing high levels of satisfaction and delight with the product," he said. It's by firming up the value story and through pricing that Ford will be able to use Fusion to stem defections from Ford to other brands, he says.

"The challenge always is among those on the cusp--it's to help the dealers with those people," Gorrell said. Fusion, before discounts, starts at around $17,000--while Camry and Accord start at around $18,400 and $18,200, respectively.

In J.D. Power & Associates' APEAL (automotive performance, execution, and layout) study, polling 60,000 who had bought a vehicle from November through January, Fusion also won the award for its segment. The car also did very well versus Camry (the older version, not the new version which launched last year) and Accord, particularly in exterior appearance--about 15% of overall score--and driving dynamics.

Unfortunately, the target is moving: Toyota launched a new Camry last April, and Nissan a new Altima--and Honda is gearing up for the 2008 Accord. For its part, Ford plans to unveil a redesigned Ford 500, a full-sized car that hasn't been a strong seller.

Meanwhile, another new Ford campaign aims to stimulate sales of the F-150 pickup truck.

On the truck side, after a year in which Ford truck sales slid 13% and its top-selling nameplate F-150 dropped 11%, the company is launching an incentive and leasing push. It includes an effort for the 2008 Ford Super Duty, which accounts for about 40% of F-series sales.

The effort is coupled with an ad campaign for the nameplate celebrating its 30th year as the top selling vehicle in the U.S., which will include a lease deal on the 2007 F-150.

Specifically, Ford is offering $249 per month on the 2007 F-150 Super Cab XLT, $299 a month for a Super Crew, or 2.9% for 60 months or $3,000 customer cash.

Ford sold 796,039 F-Series trucks last year versus 901,463 in 2005.

This year, the company, which offers some 60 variations on the F-150, is adding niche versions: a new FX2 Sport Package and Harley-Davidson SuperCrew.

Two new TV spots, also via JWT, are airing on college football Bowl Series and NFL championships, to tout the history of the vehicle.

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