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Ford campaign aims for millennials, empty-nesters with small-vehicle push

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Detroit Free Press
Published:
Millions of empty-nesters and millennials are in the market for smaller cars and crossovers, and Ford Motor Co. wants to capture their attention with a new advertising campaign slated to debut next month.
The campaign plays on the theme of "and, not or" and paints unattractive pictures of forcing choice such as mac "or" cheese, rock "or" roll, bed "or" breakfast, as opposed to both. The message: Ford's combination of performance and fuel economy is the better way to go.
The ads are targeted at vehicles mid-sized or smaller, from the Ford brand that includes the Fusion, Focus and Fiesta cars and the Escape and C-Max crossovers. The traditional print and broadcast campaign will run for the rest of the year and focus on individual vehicles.
"When customers shop, they usually start in the middle of the market," said Amy Marentic, group marketing manager for global small and medium cars.
Ford has dubbed this pool of vehicles the "super segment," accounting for half of new vehicle sales nationwide, compared with 35 percent in 2004, said Erich Merkle, Ford's U.S. sales analyst. The numbers are huge and growing: almost 7.4 million vehicles last year, up from about 6.2 million in 2011.
And he sees no signs of it letting up.
Millennials, who range in age from late teens to early thirties, start with entry-level vehicles, and their purchasing power will only increase as they age. And baby boomers are downsizing and will continue to become empty-nesters in the next 5-10 years, Merkle said.
Millennials represent 85-90 million buyers alone, Merkle said, and they are just starting to exert themselves on the marketplace. Combine that with the baby boomers, and the pool is 160 million consumers. By comparison, Generation X is only about 27 million strong.
Their buying patterns have a huge effect on market trends. Boomers don't need big family vehicles anymore, and millennials don't need them yet. Large SUV sales have dropped dramatically while small crossovers are hot. Small cars - mid-size or smaller - accounted for 13 percent of the U.S. market in 2004 but represent 21 percent today, Merkle said.
Ford is working to ensure its fair share. The automaker sold 818,000 smaller cars and crossovers last year and the super segment is driving market share increases. Toyota is the dominant player in the super segment but Ford is second, followed by Honda, Merkle said.
In 2004, 30 percent of Ford brand sales were in the super segment. Today that figure is 50 percent - a 20-point shift in a decade.
Marentic admits it is a mental shift for dealers who historically relied on trucks. She likened it to McDonald's building its business on the success of the Big Mac but finding growth today in the under-400 calorie menu. "The super segment is our under-400 calorie menu," she said.
A surprise for Ford is the relatively new Fiesta subcompact. About 53 percent of buyers are new to the brand and they tend to be young, female, coastal and first-time buyers - not the typical Ford demographic at all, Marentic said. And almost three-quarters stay with the Ford brand on their next purchase, which often is an Escape.
At the top end of the segment is the Fusion. Last year 28 percent of Fusion buyers were under 36 years of age compared with only 22 percent the previous year, a leap Merkle attributes to the styling of the new car resonating with younger buyers.
There are practical implications of this growth. Fusion sales, up 42 percent from a year ago, will face tight inventories this summer, and the addition of the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid exacerbates the problem. But shortages will ease in the fall when the Flat Rock, Mich., plant starts making Fusions to augment production coming out of Hermosillo, Mexico.

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