Dealers Flip For Ford Freestyle
Ford dealers attending meetings here are being treated to a first-ever look at their newest product designed to change the face of the market when it debuts in 2004 – Ford Freestyle.
Freestyle is a six- or seven-passenger “crossover” vehicle with three rows of seats and available all-wheel-drive that promises to add a new dimension to the Ford showroom and the automotive landscape. Like no other car on the market, Freestyle combines the best attributes of a sedan with the versatility of a sport utility vehicle.
Ford first confirmed the development program to create a new breakthrough vehicle, codenamed “CrossTrainer,” at the Chicago Auto Show in February. Dealers are getting a sneak peek at the new car during their annual meetings in Las Vegas, where Ford Division President Steve Lyons announced that it would be named the Ford Freestyle when it arrives in showrooms in 2004.
“Freestyle is a great name for this vehicle because it doesn’t follow any existing automotive paradigm,” said Lyons. “This car is one of the cornerstones in our product-led transformation. It represents the new face of Ford products of tomorrow with innovation in design, package, functionality and fun.”
The Ford Freestyle shares common architecture and manufacturing resources with the new Ford Five Hundred sedan, also debuting in 2004.
“The Freestyle and its cousin, the Ford Five Hundred are just two of the breakthrough products we’ll be introducing in the coming years,” said Lyons. “In 2002, we focused on our SUV lineup. In 2003, we’ll introduce the next generation of the world’s best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-Series and a redesigned version of the minivan safety leader, the Ford Windstar. The year 2004 will be the year of the car, with Freestyle, Five Hundred and our production version of the GT40 concept. And that’s only part of the story. There’s much more to come.”
The Ford Freestyle is designed to meet the needs of an emerging group of car customers who want the image and advantages of a sport utility, but don’t necessarily need the off-road capabilities associated with a traditional SUV. Freestyle will efficiently carry up to seven passengers and their cargo in its three-row seating configuration. It will be available in front and all-wheel drive.
“We’ve seen truck, minivan and SUV growth surges over the past decade or so,” said Chris Theodore, vice president of N.A. Product Development. “The new segment that FreeStyle defines is a major growth opportunity for the future. There are a lot of different ways to go about doing a crossover-type vehicle. We looked at them all, but in the end, we went a different way than the competition, creating a unique, purpose-built crossover architecture that delivers a vehicle unique to the market.”
In a North American marketplace where more than 40 automotive brands are selling hundreds of different vehicles, establishing a new product can be a difficult, delicate and costly endeavor. In preparation for the introduction and naming of the new product, Ford’s Market Research organization went to great lengths to study every aspect of the customer’s needs, lifestyles and mindsets.
“It’s a tough process for a designer to go through market research and hear someone basically tell them what they think of their baby,” said Theodore. “But when you’re inventing a new vehicle type, the comments are even more polarizing. We learned a lot through research, but it was more confirmation than epiphany. We know we have the right formula and we’re going to hit the market right where we want to.”
An extensive naming process was completed in September. Rather than use random searches and tests through hundreds and even thousands of names, Ford began with a very targeted approach, offering customers who were given a preview of the vehicle, a small list of about 10 names at a time. Larger, original lists were generated by Ford’s advertising agency, the product development team and marketing team. The lists were culled down to manageable numbers to allow customers to focus and reach a consensus.
Names beginning in the letter “F” were heavily favored by internal and external groups, especially when considered as a part of a larger lineup of similarly named cars and associated with the Ford brand. The name Freestyle emerged as the No.1 choice in all studies. It also carried the highest association with the Ford brand among all names considered.
In a simple exercise of word association, customer’s initial impressions of the name were associated with the marketing imagery targets for the vehicle including words such as: innovative, adventurous, fun, versatile, useful, athletic and carefree.
“It’s great for the team to be so far ahead on getting the product right and matching the marketing to the product,” said Lyons. “Seeing such a great dealer reaction makes us look forward to getting the word out customers.
Freestyle will be an all-new addition to the Ford lineup. The Taurus, one of the best-selling cars in America, will remain – and continue to be produced at Ford’s Atlanta Assembly Plant.