DEARBORN - Recently, Ford President of The Americas Mark Fields and Ford and Lincoln General Marketing Manager Dave Mondragon had the opportunity to talk about this year’s vehicle lineup, the marketing actions for these great products and much, much more on The Americas Webcast.
Below is a portion of that discussion.
What can we expect new for the 2013 model year? Mondragon:
We’ve got a great lineup this year. Starting with Taurus, if you take a look at the front end of the Taurus we have an aggressive new grille and we’ve new side cladding as well as wheels. The new Taurus SHO is going to be the showcase for us this year. We have a new 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine as well – that engine gets a whopping 32 mpg. You talk about fuel economy, that’s a staggering number for people in this segment. We’re really excited about the product though. As we go to market we’re going to showcase the SHO. Traditionally, about 8 percent of our Taurus vehicles are SHOs. This year, we’ve taken our mix up to 25 percent and we’re launching it with our lease program at $399 a month. So SHO brings in a lot of conquest customers to our brand. A lot of luxury buyers actually migrate to the SHO as well, so it’s a very aspirational vehicle. We’re excited about that and we’ve got some great advertising we’re going to market with. We have Carl Edwards, one of our NASCAR racecar drivers, taking around some of our engineers for hot laps on the track. It’s really exciting to hear from an engineer’s point of view about the features and benefits of the vehicle, but to see them actually with Carl Edwards doing hot laps is pretty exciting. Click here
to view the ads.
Fields: Now we’re going to have two different GTI or EcoBoost options on the Taurus, the 2.0liter and the 3.5liter.
Mondragon: Yes, which is great. Customers can chose to flex their muscles with a bigger more powerful engine. Both get great fuel-economy as well.
Fields: Now, moving on to more fantastic products – Mustang. Tell us what’s going on with the Mustang.
Mondragon: Love the Mustang. You know the Mustang is all about personalization and we’re carving out a new space with this year’s Mustang. We’ve got new headlights in the front that changed the look making it a little more aggressive. These new headlights in the front are HID and in the back they’re LID. Mustang looks great coming and going. It’s going to be a really exciting year for Mustang especially early this summer when we’ll bring the GT500 to market and that baby gets 650 horsepower. It’s unbelievable. You can go over 200 mph in that vehicle. Hopefully, we’ll put a governor on it when we pass the keys to our kids. But it is an exciting new product and it really sets the stage for kind of a coming out party for Mustang.
We’ve had a lot of challenges in that segment, but this vehicle, as we go and show customers how they can personalize it for their lifestyle, we think we’re going to make a huge differentiation in the marketplace.
And the television ad for Mustang with the little girl is receiving tremendous feedback. Click here
to view the ad.
Mondragon: Right, it’s great. You know that ad actually out-indexes any ad we’ve done for Mustang over the last decade. Matt Vandyke, the team and the agency did a great job bringing that ad to life. It really showcases how you can personalize the Mustang.
Fields: Moving on to more of our launches, the Flex. Tell us what’s going on with the Flex.
Mondragon: You know when I moved to Canada a few years back, I drove a Flex for the year and the saying at the time was ‘Dare to be different, drive the Flex.’ And I love the Flex. It’s not going to break any sales records for us. We sell about 2,000 Flex’s a month, 24,000 at retail a year – so it’s an important vehicle in our lineup with regard to one key aspect – it brings a lot of new buyers to our showroom. It’s a great alternative for customers who are looking for a seven-passenger vehicle. Refreshed in the front end, we’ve got new headlights, a new front-end grille, we’ve got a nice Limited package with 20-inch wheels. And the great thing about Flex, as well for our loyal customers, is they come back and buy another and another. So this is going to give our customers that are in a current model Flex a chance to come in and get into a new model. It has just enough freshening to put those customers back in the driver’s seat. Flex also indexes very well in California. It’s a little ‘throw back’ for a lot of customers in California, but they like the look and feel. And again, these Flex customers are rabid fans of Ford and they tell their friends.
Fields: How do we feel about Focus and its performance in the market place today?
Mondragon: Well we are extremely excited about Focus. This month (March) we’re running at an 11.5 percent share. We’re tracking No. 2 in the segment. And this is a vehicle line that we’ve tracked traditionally five or six in the segment. So for us to be running No. 2 in the segment is pretty amazing. This could be an all-time record for the Focus. This model is doing very well. I think what we found is with the right variable program in place and the right advertising in tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3, driving a lot of focus around our small-car strategy and our small vehicles. We’ve been able to flex our muscles extremely well. Focus is one that now we’ve got great confidence behind. We know we can sell it at volume and we’re also seeing a lot of new customers in our showroom. So it’s doing very well.
Fields: Next let’s talk about Focus Electric. We’re just starting to ship some of the vehicles to our key markets. Tell us a little about what we’re doing for that.
Mondragon: Let me just start by talking about our electrified platform. This is a huge year for Ford electrified vehicles. We’ll come to market this year with six new electrified vehicles, new and refreshed. We’ll start with the Focus BEV. Right after that, we have the C-MAX, which comes in both an HEV and PHEV. And we’ll get the Fusion – that also comes in HEV and PHEV. Then at the end of the year, we’ll bring in the all-new MKZ that comes in a HEV as well. We’ll have six electrified vehicles in our showrooms so it is an exciting time.
We’re looking to launch the Focus BEV very differently than we traditionally launch a vehicle. Most of that launch, and most of those customers, aren’t waiting and sitting around watching TV waiting to see an ad on electric vehicles. They’re going to digital sites. They’re going to different media outlets that really cater to their needs and their wants. They’re very experiential. The key to selling the Focus BEV is getting people to test drive it and see the difference in this vehicle. So the plan is to do 5,000 test drives in the month of April. It’s a very aggressive plan and we’re going to get out and talk to key influentials about that vehicle. We’re really going to try to get customers in the seat so they can experience the product.
Fields: In the past, there have been the traditional vehicle launches – there’s an auto show reveal, TV advertising, a little print – but it’s very different today. Tell us a little bit about how we launch and go to market today versus the way we did just three or four years ago.
Mondragon: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think a lot of people, at least a lot of our employees and our dealers, have seen us go to market quite differently today than ever before. We’re flexing new muscles, especially in the social media arena. The traditional method of launching a vehicle was kind of a binge and purge process. You took all your money and you threw it in the market in about a three-month time period. You escalated awareness and consideration really fast and you dried out your media dollars and then you went dark.
And so it got us off to great starts, but wasn’t sustainable. What we’ve learned over time is to take our available money and spread it over a longer duration. That includes buying our media more efficiently on the social media front.
Over 50 percent of consumers say they ask their friends and family about their vehicle purchase. That weighs just as heavily as any information a manufacturer can provide. So we need to be in those spaces, in Facebook and YouTube and be able to communicate to those customers, and let them become the advocates for our brand. Our method today isn’t always on strategy. We have a prelaunch strategy where we hit the media three to six months early. We start to build awareness and consideration for our vehicles so when we hit the ‘okay to buy’ we already have a little bit of energy behind the product. We hit the ground running with our sales and then we continue that with post launch with more social media.
Fields: You’re also using traditional media like TV but more like the Escape Routes approach, which is using reality TV and mixing that with social media. Tell us a little about that.
Some of it is branded content and some of it is product integration. We’re doing both. And you see us on shows like Alcatraz. You’ve seen us on 24. And we’re one of the first companies to do that type of product integration. American Idol is a great example of this type of branded product integration. Escape Routes is very unique though. It’s the first time anyone in the industry has ever done this. Not only do we have content integration with our vehicle being used in there, but it’s branded Escape in the title of the show. So we have our name branded in this show and it’s really exciting for us. It’s really going to help leverage great scale for our product awareness before you go to market with Escape. And it’s going to create a lot of energy behind it as well. That show is a lot like Amazing Race. It recently premiered and a lot of people probably saw it for the first time, but the vehicle is going to help people solve the puzzle of this contest as well. They’re going to use MyFord Touch in it, they’re going to be using SYNC – so they’re going to be using a lot of the applications of the vehicle, which will help get from point A to point B. Click here
to see more from Escape Routes.
Fields: Now, you know gas prices are very high even versus last year. What are we seeing overall on shifts in the marketplace between the segments? What are we seeing right now?
Mondragon: This month, we’re seeing a shift of two points in the cars. Cars are indexing over 53 percent right now, trucks 47 percent. We called the month at 51 percent so we are seeing some indexing higher in the car side. Were also seeing a lot of movement into what we call the super segment – that’s the B-car segment, the C-car, the CED and the Sport. Now these are very important segments for us. They’re all the growth segments that if you look at the industry, those four segments represent today 52 percent of the industry. It’s going to go to 55 percent of the industry next year.
For us, we’re at about 37 percent of our mix is in that super segment in those four vehicles. It’s going to go to 40 percent. We have a great opportunity to grow and close that gap. All the opportunity though, quite frankly for us to close the gap, is in coastal regions. Those are hotly contested by the Japanese and they’ve been our competitors but we’ve never been a better position to take advantage of that. We got the all-new Fiesta with a MCA as well coming at the end of the year. We’ve got the Focus and we’ve learned to sell Focus in volume. Then we have the all-new Fusion and the all-new Escape. I think we got the one, two, three, four-punch. We’re ready to go, guns are blazing and we’re excited about it.
Fields: Let’s end on some very important Lincolns. We have the MKS and the MKT coming into the marketplace right now. They’ve each had significant refreshing. What is our expectation for us in the marketplace on those vehicles?
Mondragon: The MKS and the MKT are important vehicles. They really set the stage for us to reinvigorate the brand. They’re new and in showrooms. The styling is great, the driving dynamics is great, the technology is great. I think it’s the first step in reinventing the brand. Now we’re going to follow that up later this year, with MKZ which is really exciting. But this is our foundation. We’re going to grow Lincoln sales this year by 10,000-to-12,000 units at retail and we need these vehicles. These are core vehicles for our road strategy. We need to attract new customers. The key to our brand success for Lincoln is attracting 55 to 60 percent conquest customers as we go forward. These products are well situated to bring in new customers. But they’re also going to be a great compliment as we bring out the all-new MKZ later this year.