Ford: We've fixed the Focus
By Mary Connelly
Automotive News / August 19, 2002
The game plan
1. SVT Focus becomes flagship.
2. Ads will tout handling.
3. Entire line gets marketing support.
4. Dealers promote at point of purchase
Fixing the Focus
What: Squeak, rattle complaints
Change: 42% reduction in complaints for 2002 model versus 2001 model
How: New tool more accurately gauges torque when installing nuts, bolts or fasteners
What: Wind and cabin noise
Change: 18% reduction in complaints 2002 vs. 2001 model
How: Thicker cabin carpet, more sound deadening under floorpan and engine firewall, new door handle seals, use of ultrasonic air leakage transmitter on every vehicle, new air leakage test
2000 model year
2001 model year
2002 model year
DETROIT - Ford Division will throw its marketing muscle behind the Ford Focus this fall in a bid to overturn the small car's reputation for shoddy quality and hang on to the company's eroding share of the car market.
The marketing blitz is crucial to the company because its car lineup is faltering, while domestic rivals General Motors and the Chrysler group have launched massive efforts to revitalize their car lines.
Sales of the Focus and the Ford Taurus - the division's bread-and-butter cars - are off, and no help arrives until mid-decade. The division must await a 2005 model Focus overhaul and the introduction of the 2005 Ford Five Hundred premium sedan.
Ford spent $91 million on traditional advertising alone to introduce the Focus in the 2000 model year, according to Competitive Media Reporting, and is likely to spend at least half that much to remake the image of the 2003 carryover model.
For the first seven months of the year, the Focus was the sixth-best-selling car in the United States, though sales were off 10 percent to 139,289 units.
During that period, Ford Division's share of U.S. passenger car sales slipped to 10.4 percent, from 11.5 percent in the same period of 2001.
The Focus started strong, propelled by the model's agile handling and interior roominess. The car quickly stumbled, tripped up by repeated recalls and defect investigations.
Now, after months of fixes, Ford says the Focus is ready for a second try at winning - and winning back - buyers.
A marketing task force will create a strategy to be unveiled during Ford Division dealer meetings at the end of September in Las Vegas.
"Absolutely, without a doubt, quality problems have hurt that product," said Mark Schirmer, a Ford Division spokesman.
"We believe we have turned the corner in improving the car by changing parts and improving the assembly processes. But we recognize that reputation takes a while to change."
Ford will turn the SVT Focus into the line's flagship, introduce TV and print advertising touting the car's handling, promote the broad range of Focus models and ask dealers to give the car attention in the showroom.
Ford marketers have a big job, even without having to overcome the quality stigma.
The Saturn Ion debuts this fall. The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are fresher products than the Focus in that segment.
Korean manufacturers are gaining steadily in the bottom of the market.
The Civic and Chevrolet's elderly Cavalier each outsold the Focus through July of this year.
Chevrolet has used incentives to promote the Cavalier in a price-sensitive segment, said Jeff Schuster, J.D. Power and Associates director of North American forecasting and product analysis. Through July, Cavalier sales have climbed 8.5 percent to 156,015 units compared with the same period a year ago.
"Does Ford want to get into an incentive war with Chevy?'' Schuster asked. "How badly do they want the share in that segment?'
Since January 2002, Chevrolet has spent more than $2,000 per unit on Cavalier customer cash rebates, according to J.D. Power.
Indeed, in May, June, July and August, Chevrolet spent more than $2,960 per Cavalier sale.
In contrast, Ford spent only $867 per unit on Focus customer rebates in January, J.D. Power said. And Focus spending peaked at $1,746 per unit during the four months in which Chevrolet handed out nearly $3,000 per Cavalier sale.
A tough history
Ford says the Focus is ready to re-enter the fray after months of work to rid the car of its defects.
Comparing the 2002 and 2001 models, the Focus improved 17 percent in problems per 100 vehicles after three months in service, according to the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.
The Focus falls "just slightly below" the industry average of 133 problems per 100 vehicles, J.D. Power said.
"From all the data we have, this is an extremely competitive vehicle on quality," said Louise Goeser, Ford Motor Co. vice president of quality. For example, warranty repairs after three months of service declined 44 percent for 2002 models compared with 2000 models, she said.
But the Focus' image has taken another recent blow. In July, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials upgraded an investigation into reports of engine compartment fires in the Focus. The investigation covers 690,000 Focus units sold in the United States in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 model years.
Ford has conducted seven U.S. safety recalls of the 2000 Focus, three recalls of 2001 models and one recall of the 2002 Focus.
Steve Lyons, appointed division president in April 2002, has created a Focus marketing task force that includes Francisco Codina, Ford Division general marketing manager, and ad agency J. Walter Thompson.
Good news, bad news
Lyons' strategists will have to pull off a sizable turnaround in perception. For example, in April 2002, USA Today printed this six-column headline over a test drive of the 2002 Focus ZX5: "So nimble, so useful, but can Focus be trusted?''
The review - which is representative of the car's reputation in the automotive press - described the Focus as "terrific to drive but a risk to own."
"Focus has always been a high things-gone-right vehicle," Goeser said. "Customers love the driving dynamics, the package."
Lyons' task force will cull good news from such reviews. The group is creating TV and print ads and a marketing push in dealer showrooms that hits three key messages beginning in the 2003 model year.
1. Range of the Focus line. Ford will portray the Focus brand as a range of vehicles, including a sedan, wagon, three-door, five-door and two performance-oriented SVT models.
2. Driving dynamics. Internal Ford research shows that "fun to drive" ranks among the top 10 reasons buyers chose Focus, Schirmer said. In the small-car class, the Volkswagen Golf is the only Focus competitor that scores well on that attribute, he said.
"Driving dynamics will be our selling point," Schirmer said. "When we advertise this fall, that is going to come out very strongly."
3. The SVT Focus as an image-setting model. By next year, Ford will expand its SVT dealer network in the United States to an estimated 1,200 dealerships, up from 600 today.
Ford will boost SVT Focus production to at least 12,000 units and possibly as many as 18,000. Ford built 5,500 in the 2002 model year.
"One of the goals in expanding the availability was to put that tool into the marketing toolbox," Schirmer said.
"The SVT Focus will become the flagship of the whole Focus brand."
Lyons will deliver a "call to action" to dealers, Schirmer said.
"There will be point-of-sale material. We want a cohesive message from advertising to the showroom floor."
Photo from Motor Trend online.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....