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  (Source: Paul Stamatiou)
America's second largest automaker is targeting smaller vehicles, gunning hard for baby boomers and Gen Y buyers

At a press event on Friday, Ford Motor Comp. (F) unveiled its new advertising plan to target 160 million Americans that fall into either the "millennial" (aka "Generation Y"; born in the early 1980s to early 2000s) or "baby-boomer" (born between 1946-1964) generations.

I. Ford Guns for Gen. Y, Plugs Zipcar Partnership

Ford's new campaign will focus on the so-called "super segment" which includes small cars, midsize sedans, and small utility vehicles.  The segment accounted for only 35 percent of Ford sales in 2004, but as customers have moved towards smaller vehicles Ford today sees it account for 50 percent of sales.

The automaker has excelled in recent years, behind only General Motors Comp. (GM) in U.S. sales.  In fact, all of the U.S. automakers have done well -- Chrysler LLC is in third place, while Toyota Motor Comp. (TYO:7203) and Honda Motors Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7267) have fallen behind in U.S. sales.  Strong growth in the super segment has saved Ford, sustaining its U.S. growth, while sales have slumped in Europe.  "Super segment" models include the (re-introduced) Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, and Escape.

The automaker acknowledges that the large millennial generation represents a risk, with more of them living with their parents or having lower incomes, but says it's confident it can appeal to them as they settle down and have children.

Ford's Group Marketing Manager Amy Marentic remarks, "Millennial want a vehicle that looks great, but at the same time are sensitive to things like value, fuel efficiency, technology.  [They're] not going to be brand loyal to what their parent did.... When they drive up to the club they want to look fabulous... Just like their cell phone, just like their shoes... they want their car to make a statement about them."

The company views its partnership with Zipcar Inc. (ZIP) as a crucial piece of effective advertising to Generation Y buyers.  Ford Sales Analyst Eric Merkle says that when Gen. Y buyers graduate from colleges they're used to driving Ford via Zipcars, which mostly are Ford Focuses, with a few Escapes mixed in.  

Zipcar is a key partnership for Ford's Gen. Y appeal. [Image Source: Kelvin Ma/Bloomberg]

He says that some will move to cities -- where more Ford Zipcars await -- while others will opt to move to the suburbs and buy a vehicle for commuting.  He says those buyers are more likely to buy a Ford.

In total, Zipcar's Ford fleet logged 2.2 million driver hours last year, with about 700,000 drivers.

II. Manuals Seeing Strong Sales Among Younger Drivers at Ford

In an interview Eric Merkle was asked about how Ford would react to manual drivership decreasing in younger buyers.  Mr. Merkle disputed that premise stating, "Oh no, [Millennials] do really like to drive manuals.  I really think that you're starting to see the manual starting to come back."

He supports his claim with sales figures.  He says approximately 12 to 23 percent of Ford Fiestas sold per month (as many as 1 out of every 5 sold) and 9 to 17 percent of Focuses sold per month come with manuals.  

Manual Transmission
Around one in five Focus and Fiesta buyers pick manuals some months.
[Image Source: Automobile Magazine]

While he did not cite a breakdown by generation, the Focus and Fiesta are cars that are thought to do quite well with Gen. Y buyers, so his claim may well be accurate.

Ford views its chief competitors in the super segment -- particular in the manual sales -- as Mitsubishi Corp. (TYO:8058), Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (TYO:7270) subsidiary Subaru, and Volkswagen AG (ETR:VOW).

III. Ford Blasts Back at Critics of MyFord Touch

Mr. Merkle also commented, "[With Sync/MyFord Touch] we didn't want the vehicle to become the cell phone; we wanted to integrate seamless with the cell phone."

I asked Ms. Marentic about Ford's struggles with harsh criticism from J.D Power and Associates and Consumer Reports regarding its graphically overhauled MyFord Touch infotainment system.

MyFord Touch
MyFord Touch in the F-Series. [Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech]

She defended Ford's strategy, acknowledging that much like the smartphone, the system started with some bugs, but has gained from continual patches/improvements.  She also asserted that Ford's customer satisfaction surveys consistently rank vehicles sold with MyFord Touch above those not sold with it.

I asked her why the disconnect then, by Consumer Reports, when they are supposed to predict how consumers will react to a vehicle in terms of satisfaction.  She responded, "That's true.  That sounds like a good question for Consumer Reports."

Responding to my inquiry about whether the criticism would soften amid competitors like GM introducing similar technologies in their vehicles, she predicted it likely would, commenting, "As the first mover you get a lot of love, and you get a lot of criticism.  But everybody's going there [to infotainment].  It is the future."

IV. CAFE Quandaries and Looking Ahead to the 2014 Fiesta Mix

I asked Ms. Marentic if she worried about the demand for smaller vehicles to backfire if it flips in coming decades, as automakers may have grown more complacent with regards to tough CAFE increases, such as President Obama's 54.5 mpg 2025 target.  She said she didn't think so, arguing that Ford is always an industry leader in fuel efficiency.

The advertising campaign will kick off not long before the new 2014 Fiesta ST -- a performance-geared variant of the popular front wheel drive (FWD) subcompact  -- hits dealerships the new Fiesta ST "hot hatch" hatchback will be driven by a 1.6L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, with 197 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque, feeding into a six-speed manual transmission with overall steering ratio of 13.6:1 and increased roll stiffness at the rear axle.  The hatchback is currently the sales leader in Europe in its segment.  

2014 Ford Fiesta
2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Ford will also introduce a new fuel efficient 1.0L inline 3-cylinder EcoBoost Fiesta later in the fall. The engine block of the I3 is light enough to carry onto an airplane (around 50-60 lb, according to estimates).  

Ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta's 1.0L engine block takes a trip through airport security as a carry-on.
[Image Source: Ford via AutoBlog]

The petite engine is expected to produce around 123 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque.  It bumps the highway fuel economy to 40 mpg.  The new 2014 Fiesta models pack an improved MyFord Touch screen.

Ford's hybrids (Fusion, C-Max) have been seeing strong sales, although its Focus Electric battery electric vehicle has seen tepid sales, forcing deep discounting.

[A special thanks to web-designer and photographer Paul Stamatiou for the shifter shot.  

Sources: Ford [1], [2]

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RE: March of progress
By Spuke on 3/22/2013 6:46:33 PM , Rating: 2
Drive a Lancer EVO or some of the Bimmers with the 7 speed DCT. I drove a 135i with a DCT, shifts are lightning fast with a little pop on shifts and some burble from the exhaust when letting off the gas while slowing down. Believe it or not the EVO was tame and refined in comparison. Awesome transmissions on both cars!

RE: March of progress
By M'n'M on 3/22/2013 7:10:11 PM , Rating: 2
How would you rate either of those cars if you had to crawl in traffic or start on snow/ice ? Last SMT I drove was a while ago and it wasn't a thing of finesse when engaging 1'st gear from a stop. I suspect they've gotten a lot better since then but ...

(A 135i would be on my short list for a car in a few years)

RE: March of progress
By Spuke on 3/22/2013 7:28:52 PM , Rating: 2
On the Bimmer use DTC (allows more slip before the TC kicks in) for the snow, also I'd roll auto with sport mode deactivated on the DCT in traffic. I'd keep the EVO in normal mode and set the SAWC to snow for the white stuff and in traffic keep it in normal/tarmac. 1st gear from a stop on both cars was smooth. No jerkiness in my drives. The Bimmer was more refined and materials were better IMO than the EVO plus it had that split personality I really liked.

RE: March of progress
By Iaiken on 3/23/2013 11:32:30 AM , Rating: 2
little pop on shifts and some burble from the exhaust when letting off the gas while slowing down

I drive a MINI JCW and with all of the cars you mentioned the burble and pop is programmed into the engine computer. When you let off the pedal the ECU continues to give the engine tiny spurts of fuel and air to cool the cylinder but no spark to detonate it. That unburnt charge then passes into the hot exhaust manifold where it expands and combusts to create a popping sound or series of pops (burble).

In the case of BMW/MINI this burble and pop only really happens when you press the sport button and is mostly for show as the amount of cooling it provides is basically negligible. In essence, the ECU is wasting fuel and hurting the environment to provide a fun sound (Woot!). You can also make it louder/sharper by using a heavier manifold, but the more violent pops can damage the turbo impeller, the cat and the muffler over time.

RE: March of progress
By Spuke on 3/25/2013 2:16:05 PM , Rating: 1
Might be a function of DI on the pop and burbling, my Solstice does the same on deceleration. I think gear ratios have more to do with the Bimmers lower fuel economy than pops and burbles. Regardless, I just didn't expect that from the 135i especially since the 335i doesn't do that. I like that little bit of unrefinement. It adds to the enjoyment of driving. You would understand that being a Mini owner.

RE: March of progress
By Iaiken on 3/26/2013 12:29:59 PM , Rating: 2
Might be a function of DI on the pop and burbling, my Solstice does the same on deceleration.

Nope, it's purely caused by the evacuation of a fueled cylinder without a spark into the hot manifold. The R53 Cooper S & JCW from 05-06 don't have direct injection and they burble and pop like crazy. Likewise, this can be added to the 02-05 R53's by virtue of an ECU update. What's more, since they are supercharged and there is no turbo impeller impeding the sound waves, it's much louder than in the new R56's.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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