California Autos Examiner

Monday, December 21, 2009

Attention California: Bill Ford would like you to buy more Fords

Bill Ford, Jr (courtesy: Ford)
Whenever Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. arrives in California to attend an eBay board of directors meeting, he sees something he does not like:  A lack of Ford products on the road.  In a brief interview at a product preview in Dearborn, Michigan, on Friday, Bill Ford told me that he really wants to improve Ford’s position in the sunshine state.
View a gallery of current Ford products and their place in the company's revival in the slideshow below this article.
“California or Bust” is not necessarily a new mantra for domestic automakers, but for the first time in a long time they actually have the goods to make their goal a reality.  For example, Californians crave hybrid cars and Toyota has positioned itself nicely in this segment.  Now Ford is able to respond to this threat with well received hybrid offerings of its own, Ford Escape hybrid and Ford Fusion hybrid, and consumers and fleet buyers are taking notice. 
Also playing into Ford’s California push are its technology efforts.  Whereas Ford vehicles of long ago may have been dripping with chrome or in some unfortunate cases actual fluids, its new vehicles are dripping with technology and Ford is filling its trophy cases with awards for quality.
An effective marketing campaign is also very important piece of the puzzle and in this respect Ford is also demonstrating its ability to conquer new media outlets by using programs like the Fiesta Movement to spread advance word of new products or its “Drive One” marketing campaign that uses actual owners to provide testimonials.
The media preview I attended was held in a factory that once produced Lincoln Navigators and Ford Expeditions and is now in the process of being refitted to build a new generation of smaller Fords.  As I stood in that factory, looking at the work in progress, I could not help but breath in a sense of renewal (along with a heavy odor of what I believe was fiberglass).  The venue certainly was not a posh affair, but the focus was on the future and the hope that it brings.  While Ford has asked us not to speak about the products that we were shown, I can tell you that they showcase a continued resurgence for the domestic car maker.
The difficulty for Ford or General Motors, both of which have vastly improved product portfolios, is that they must make a solid case to consumers who have been well served by imported brands.  After dumping a domestic product years ago in favor of a Honda for example, what are the motivating factors for a buyer to consider domestics again if each successive Honda has met or exceeded expectations? 
Style would certainly be one such motivating factor.  If domestic products can pull emotional strings with more compelling designs than their imported counterparts, buying patterns such as “I’ll just buy another Honda” can be disrupted.
Unique features can also be a motivator for buyers.  For example, Ford’s SYNC system offers a rich technology package that many competitors currently cannot match.  Ford's "Active Park Assist" self-parking technology has also been well reviewed.
Offering more car for the money is also an effective strategy.  A buyer of a Honda Fit would be greeted with hard plastic on his dash whereas a Ford Fiesta buyer would have a more premium, soft  touch dash surface and the availability of luxury options not usually available in its class.
Nothing in life is guaranteed and the competition certainly will not stand still, but Ford’s chances in California are brighter than they have been in a long time.  While Bill Ford Jr., might not see as many cars as he would like in the eBay parking lot, he will likely see his family name on more trunks and hatches than in the past over the next few years.
It is not a sudden transformation, but just as a newly planted field takes awhile to show real growth, so will an increase in Californian's interest in domestic products.  Domestic manufacturers have lost their arrogant attitudes that caused them to slip behind and now have returned, hat in hand, asking consumers to once again consider brands they had dropped from their lists.  It would be to the detriment of consumer's themselves if they do not give domestics a second chance.
Ford Motor Company covered my expenses so that I was able to attend its media preview.
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