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The latest “bold move” marketing slogan for Ford Motor Company is “Drive One.”
It's a truncated remake of another marketing slogan from another time when FoMoCo was on the ropes ("Have you Driven a Ford Lately")
Yet not enough customers are taking Ford up on the offer.
“Ford sales are off nearly 14 percent through the first seven months of the year, with U.S. car sales off almost 5 percent and trucks down just over 18 percent. Overall, the U.S. market is down 10 percent with growth in small cars and drops in truck and sport utility vehicle sales, Ford's traditional profit centers.”
“The sales slump has contributed to Ford losing $8.7 billion in the second quarter as it races to adjust from trucks to a stronger car lineup. The company has said it will bring over several small car models from Europe including the Fiesta subcompact and the European Focus compact, but those won't arrive until 2010.”
With a share of FoMoCo (F) now trading for less than a good hamburger at Red Robin, a mostly lame-duck vehicle line-up, and an operation hemorrhaging billions each month, the Glass House Gang decided it was high time for the dwindling number Ford staffers “Drive One.”
“Last week, Ford started pulling around 4,000 workers from their desks at sites near the Dearborn headquarters and onto a test track for a few hours of driving and learning about how Ford hopes to set its vehicles apart from other automakers.”
One could think of it as FoMoCo’s version of a “dream cruise” (not to be confused with the Woodward Dream Cruise) with a healthy dose of chautauqua mixed in.
Hey it’s better than workin’ . . . or worrying about the next round of layoffs.
However, how does a company-paid revival meeting for “true believers” that are hopefully already committed to FoMoCo address what “Autoextremist” Peter DeLorenzo call the “perception problem?”
The perception problem in a nutshell is that the general public’s perceptions about quality improvements, style and competitiveness lags behind the actual product developments. In other words, most people are lemmings who make decisions based on hunches, obsolete data and imitating what their neighbors do.
That’s tough sledding for appeals to “Drive One” if almost no one down the street is.
The America-killing Japanese brands have a lot more “paid in” capital in the mass perception “bank.” Until the natural cycles of decay, obsolescence and brand hubris take their toll and the entry-level markets are bloated with worn-out Japanese “hoopties,” (and Ford has a bolder line-up of market appropriate products, supported by quality “entry level” used vehicles) Ford will have a tough time undoing a generation of mixed perceptions borne out of FoMoCo’s missteps in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Obviously FoMoCo has to do what it can to hang on until:
(a) Alan Mulally’s European rescue plan has a chance;
(b) fuel prices stabilize and (hopefully) abate, improving the weak economy that is challenging most automakers;
(c) somebody at Ford can figure out how to counteract the growing Japanese menace; and
(d) some future Ford hits the illusive combination of style, value, exclusivity, design, economy and performance that makes it a red-hot “must have” sales hit and automotive icon (such as the original Mustang or even the original Taurus, notwithstanding the bull-mobile's handicap of low-performance front wheel drive and its obvious lack of staying power as a “classic”).
Prominent in FoMoCo’s in-house “Drive One” revival was the vaporware of “Eco-Boost.” Some startled desk jockeys planted the obligatory quotes of amazement in the press coverage of the event.
But sadly missing in action is any suggestion of a V-8 Eco-Boost engine. Such a high efficiency and high performance engine is necessary if Ford hopes to weather the coming 1970s-style Corporate Average Fuel Economy storm with any hope of marketing anything remotely satisfying to FoMoCo’s loyal Mustang and SVT customer bases.
If Ford doesn’t do it. Somebody else will.
Similarly, if Ford doesn't build a technology-leading high performance Eco-Boost V8 electric hybrid muscle car (with necessary features such as Ethanol Boosting System's direct "on-demand" ethanol injection , variable geometry intake manifolds, DOHC, variable cam timing and phasing, and perhaps even VW-style "twincharging"), somebody else will.
And if FoMoCo doesn't address the Modular V8 bore center problem in it production and Ford Racing Peformance Parts aftermarket engine programs to counter the Hemi and GM's LS-series V8s (i.e. a big cube DOHC version of the too-oft delayed Boss engine) then FoMoCo's share of the huge, influential automotive aftermarket will continue to decline as "hot rodders" and tuners avoid "Powered by Ford" like the plague.
Ford’s blind-eyed neglect of its loyal enthusiast base apparently continues.