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Old 04-14-2003, 08:41   #1 (permalink)
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Ford pushes entry-level vehicles in effort to revive sales

April 14, 2003
By AMY WILSON | Automotive News

Ford Division is putting more incentive money behind its entry-level vehicles to revive sales.

Spending on the Focus, Escape and Ranger is up significantly in 2003. In 2002, combined sales for the three vehicles slid by 12.3 percent as the Ranger aged and the Focus battled quality glitches. As of April 8, per-vehicle incentives were up 40 percent on the Focus, 12 percent on the Ranger and 9 percent on the Escape compared with year-ago numbers, according to CNW Marketing/Research Inc. in Bandon, Ore.

The attention seems to be working. Sales or market share are up for each of the three vehicles. For the first three months, combined sales of the Focus, Escape and Ranger rebounded by 11.4 percent compared with year-ago numbers.

"They'll finance almost anybody on a Focus or a Ranger," says Jody Herring, vice president of Dub Herring Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Picayune, Miss. "They're trying to (sell) those vehicles a lot harder."

Incentives have included a mix of cut-rate financing, rebates of as much as $3,000 and a $5 a day or $150 per month lease payment on certain Rangers. Some advertising has shifted to media that appeal to younger buyers, CNW President Art Spinella says.

The Ranger posted its lowest sales tally in 15 years in 2002, and its share of the small-pickup market dipped to 27.9 percent. The Ranger, last redesigned for 1993, isn't slated for another redesign until 2006 or later.

The Focus, which has had at least 11 recalls since its 1999 introduction, fell to its lowest full-year mark in 2002. In September, Ford improved the car's warranty and increased its advertising budget. Sales of the Escape dipped 11.4 percent in the vehicle's second full year.

More entry-level buyers should help down the road, says Jim O'Connor, Ford group vice president for North America marketing, sales and service. About 17 percent of Ranger buyers move up to the F-series pickup, he says.

Ford won't disclose sales goals for the vehicles. Some vary by region, including a plan to increase Focus sales in California by 30 percent to comply with lower emissions regulations.

In Oklahoma and Texas, dealers aim to boost Ranger sales by 20 percent, says dealer Jerry Reynolds of Prestige Ford in Garland, Texas.

George Pipas, Ford sales analyst, says changing demographics make the entry-level market essential. Consumers now 10 to 25 years old may be the largest population group to jump into the car-buying market, he says. They especially will want small cars and SUVs.

"I see these segments outperforming the overall market for a period of years," Pipas says. "We have to capitalize on it."

Ford also may want to maximize Ranger sales before a new competitor enters the market. General Motors is slated to introduce its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon this year.

Ford wants to own that segment, says dealer Jim Doyle in Kenmore, N.Y. "They've owned it for so long, they don't want the S10 (replacement) getting anywhere near it."
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