Ford Motor Co, the only one of the country’s Big Three automakers to avoid bankruptcy, has pledged to accelerate its new product lines as it tries to consolidate a four-year turnaround effort.
“Within five years, Ford expects to have reduced the age of its global product portfolio by 20 percent,” the company said last week.
Last month, Ford reported a 2.3 percent increase in auto sales — the first month it has posted a year-over-year gain since November 2007.
The company acknowledged that the positive movement was mostly due to the government’s “cash for clunkers” program, which subsidized the cost of new cars for some Americans, but analysts are upbeat about Ford’s overall health.
“We think Ford could be profitable [on a sustained basis] by the end of 2009,” Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache said.
In an attempt to capitalize on that momentum, Ford is preparing to wheel out several new and revived lines, including next year’s Ford Taurus.
“This isn’t about staying the course. It’s about prospering after the downturn,” said Lewis Booth, Ford’s chief financial officer. “My job is to make sure we have the proper balance of resources to protect our future.”
Ford officially launched its new advertising campaign for next year’s Ford Taurus bolstered by a positive safety rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“Ford probably has the strongest line of vehicles it’s had in years,” said Alan Baum of The Planning Edge, a Michigan-based planning and research firm.
Others are more skeptical, and Ford marketing director Matt Van Dyke acknowledges that while the Taurus has strong name recognition, the brand’s popularity could stand to be strengthened.
The company hopes to make that happen through an aggressive advertising campaign that will use television, newspapers and a broad digital campaign.
“This is a transformational car for us,” Van Dyke said. “This is a whole new approach to using ‘word of mouth’ that will showcase our fantastic new Taurus.”
Ford’s advertising campaign will compare Taurus technology and other features against more expensive luxury sedans from Audi, Lexus, Acura and Infiniti.
The company is partnering with Microsoft to emphasize the Taurus’ high-tech features, creating ads with barcodes that smartphone users can scan to access information about the car.
“The convenience and ability to offer customers additional information at the touch of their mobile device speaks volumes on how technologically advanced the new Taurus is,” Van Dyke said.
The company is also planning to bring its hit Ford Fiesta from Europe to the US and add more fuel-efficient models to its US product lines.
“We have made it a business priority to deliver a full lineup of Ford vehicles — small, medium and large cars, utilities and trucks — that aim to be best-in-class in fuel efficiency, quality, technology and safety and available to consumers with exceptional value,” said Derrick Kuzak of Ford’s global product development group.
Ford argues that its commitment to new product lines is part of an overall strategy for recovery honed after successful turnarounds of the company’s operations at Ford South Africa and Mazda and Ford in Europe.
“You have to manage your costs very carefully. You also have to watch your cash,” Booth said, but “great cars are not just about satisfying rational attributes. It’s about rational and emotional attributes.”