Ford encores as an ardent TV pitchman
Ads weave Americana into his vision for company
The Video: http://www.freep.com/av/v/2005/102005_fordad.wmv
BY SARAH A. WEBSTER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Ford Motor Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford will appear in a national ad campaign that is slated to kick off today and trumpet the automaker's commitment to build innovative and environmentally friendly cars and trucks, such as those powered by hybrid gasoline-electric engines.
It's the first time Ford has appeared in company ads since 2002, when he talked about the automaker's heritage, philosophy and product quality.
The latest ads come at the same time the Dearborn-based automaker is expected to report it lost money during the last three months -- the company's first quarterly loss since the end of 2003.
Ford earned $2.2 billion through the first half of the year and is still expected to turn a profit this year. But a poll of independent industry experts predicts the automaker lost about 9 cents a share, or more than $160 million, during the third quarter.
Those losses, and the fierce competition for American car and truck buyers, prompted the automaker to launch a corporate-wide campaign last month to reposition Ford Motor as a leader in innovation and cutting-edge energy policies.
The new corporate ads try to convey that change to consumers -- tugging at patriotic heartstrings and growing public concerns about fuel economy. One ad lasts 30 seconds and the other 60 seconds.
Some television viewers got a sneak preview Tuesday night, when the ads were accidentally aired during a "Seinfeld" rerun on TBS. However, the ads are slated to officially kick off today during popular network and cable TV shows.
In the ads, Bill Ford, the 48-year-old great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, casually sits on a stool in an auto design studio, looks into the camera and talks about the company's commitment to "American innovation" and environmentally friendly vehicles that are powered by hybrid gasoline-electric engines or those that can run on ethanol. Ethanol is made from grain, which can be grown in the United States.
Ford says he is "dramatically ramping up" that commitment to get "this country less dependent upon foreign oil."
Drawing on the 102-year-old company's invention of the Model T and assembly line, Ford says innovation will be the "compass that guides this company going forward."
As Ford narrates, headlines conveying the company's new mission -- 250,000 hybrids a year by 2010 and 250,000 ethanol vehicles in 2006 -- flash by warm and fuzzy Americana images:
The outside of the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn at dusk. A man pulling a flat of flowers from the back of a hybrid Ford Escape SUV in front of a home. Workers loading bales of hay into the bed of a Ford pickup on a farm. Young families happily traveling around town in the Escape. A multicultural group of young Ford employees brainstorming at a drawing table.
The U.S. flag is on display in many of the scenes, and emotional music plays in the background.
Various cars -- the Ford Mustang, a black Fusion and a red GT supercar -- make drive-by appearances in the ads, but the spotlight centers squarely on the Ford Escape.
While sales of the Escape are down 6% for the year, the hybrid version is ranked as the fifth most fuel-efficient vehicle among 2006 models, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's latest fuel economy report (www.fueleconomy.gov
). The Escape also was the top-selling crossover in the United States through September. And it was the first domestic hybrid -- giving lots for Ford to tout with that model.
While the ads may resonate with consumers anxious about unpredictable fuel prices, they may also draw criticism.
Environmental groups have long questioned Bill Ford's efforts to portray himself as an environmentalist when his company's cars and trucks have the lowest average fuel economy of the major automakers.
Ford Motor averages 22.8 miles per gallon for its 2004 model-year vehicles. That compares with the industry average of 24.6 m.p.g., according to the EPA's latest report.
"The rhetoric really doesn't match the reality," Mike Hudema, clean-car campaign manager at the Global Exchange, said of Ford Motor and its commitment to hybrids and flex-fuel vehicles.
That organization, along with the Rainforest Action Network, started a campaign in 2003 called "Jumpstart Ford" to push Ford to improve its fleet-wide fuel efficiency to 50 miles per gallon by 2010. Another group, the Ruckus Society, recently joined that effort, and together they will hold a national demonstration Nov. 12 at Ford dealerships in various U.S. cities.
However, a report from Ford projects the automaker will improve its fuel economy to 23.9 miles per gallon for all of its 2005 model-year vehicles.
Brendan Bell, a clean-vehicles analyst with the Sierra Club, said Ford has finally caught on to the fact consumers want fuel-efficient vehicles.
"Their failure in the past to focus on better technology has hurt the environment and their bottom line," Bell said. "I think Bill Ford understands the need to change its current course or it's doomed."