It’s hard to miss. Just about everywhere you turn, there’s some news about Ford Motor Co. and most of it is good.
Most recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the carmaker posting nearly a $1 billion dollar profit for the third quarter in 2009 in the midst of a troubling industry and poor economy. But it’s only the latest in a string of news indicative of what now is being defined as a “new day” for Ford and why the carmaker is winning.
Check around. The new 2010 Ford Taurus is currently one of the most talked about vehicles in the market. Practically every week there’s some news story about how well Ford is doing, and the North American launch for the Ford Fiesta is being touted as one of the carmaker’s most anticipated ever.
Ford’s nearly $1 billion profit for the third quarter of 2009 is a $1.2 billion turnaround from the third quarter of last year, according to published reports. The company also generated $1 billion in cash and paid down $2 billion in debt.
According to Consumer Reports’ 2009 Annual Car Reliability Survey, Ford ranks as the only Detroit automaker with world class reliability and is on par or ranks higher than some of its foreign counterparts. About 90 percent (46 of 51) of Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln products were found to have average or better reliability.
It’s an improvement in the carmaker’s product strategy that started visibly taking shape when the Flex crossover was launched a few years ago. And a strategy that Ford promises is only a sign of things to come.
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” said Patrick Schiavone, Ford design director.
At the annual SEMA aftermarket show held in Las Vegas last week, Ford was all the buzz, whether it was praises for the Fiesta, which was available for test drives, or the scores of customized Tauruses on display at the show.
Love it or hate it, the new Lincoln MKT crossover is about as far of a departure from Lincolns of the past as an eight-track player is to an iPod.
Hip-hop car aficionado and Ford spokesman Funkmaster Flex, who had a customized Taurus on display at SEMA, said the sedan as a clear sign of how things have changed at Ford.
“We didn’t come off right with the Ford 500 and changing the name. That set us back a bit,” said Flex, who despite his affiliation with Ford speaks candidly about some of the carmaker’s past mistakes. “The (Taurus) is perfect. This is performance and eye candy.”
Globally, the Ford Fiesta was the UK’s top seller in October – the eighth time the model has topped the monthly sales charts in 2009. The Ford Focus was second to Fiesta.
Last week, Ford announced that it was bringing to market the world’s first automotive inflatable seat belts, combining attributes of traditional seat belts and air bags to provide an added level of crash safety protection for rear seat occupants.
The advanced restraint system is designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries.
The inflatable rear seat belts will be introduced on the next-generation Ford Explorer, which goes into production next year in the North American market. Over time, Ford plans to offer the technology in vehicles globally.
In January, Ford will unveil a concept for an in-car voice-to-text feature at the International CES technology in Las Vegas – one of the latest in a stream of cutting-edge technological features the carmaker has been rolling out since it first unveiled its hands-free SYNC technology.
Ford’s new 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, which provides the fuel efficiency of a V-6 with the power of a V-8, might be one of the most impressive engines on the market.
Even more indicative of the change at Ford is the automaker’s advertising strategy with campaigns such as Drive One and the Lincoln ads featuring music “Under the Milky Way” is a sharp departure from the dull ads used by the carmaker in the past. I heard a SEMA attendee humming the song featured in one of Lincoln’s TV ads making his way through Ford’s display at the show.
And even Ford’s website (www.FordVehicle.com) is a sharp departure from the company’s ways of the past, especially the link for Mustang, which includes a video featuring Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah.
The idea of Ford using Latifah in such a capacity for a general market campaign would be unthinkable in the past.
FordUrban.com, part of the automaker’s minority marketing campaign, features a number of engaging elements as well, reflective of a more aggressive marketing strategy.
But why the change?
Talk to anybody affiliated with Ford and they’ll quickly tell you that it’s a complete shift in attitude in all facets of the company’s operations – especially with top level management, which is where everything starts.
“We’re a different company,” said one Ford spokesperson. “We‘re not doing things the way we used to.”
Not that the carmaker is completely out of the water. While most of it stems from perception rather than reality, Ford still lags in some critical trendsetting markets like Los Angeles when matched against imports. It’ll take some time for the automaker to get over that hump. But Ford’s visibly making some strides in some of those markets with vehicles like the Edge where in the past Ford cars typically would’ve only be considered an option as a rental car.
Yep, this is definitely a different Ford.
Marcus Amick is a product analyst and national marketing consultant.