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US:Ford seeks new image for U.S.brands,wants to make scientific innovation a hallmark

Ford seeks new image for U.S. brands, wants to make scientific innovation a hallmark

AMY WILSON | Automotive News

DETROIT -- With plans for a tenfold increase in hybrid vehicles, Ford Motor Co. wants to make scientific innovation the hallmark of its domestic brands. And even though a dramatic expansion in Ford hybrids remains five years away, the automaker will launch a major corporate branding campaign in October.

The move to stamp the automaker's century-old Ford name with a new image highlights a key problem: the company's inability to create a strong identity for its brands.

That was a motivating factor in new investment, CEO Bill Ford acknowledged. What should Ford stand for?

"I'm not sure there was an aha moment," Bill Ford said. "But it became increasingly clear to me, as we were talking to customers and doing our research like we always do, that the Ford brand in particular, but also Lincoln and Mercury, didn't have the kind of clarity in the marketplace that I wanted to see."

That realization in part triggered the appointment of outgoing Volvo CEO Hans-Olov Olsson as Ford Motor's chief marketing officer. Coming from Volvo, with its strong safety brand image, Olsson will help leverage safety innovation across all the company's brands, Bill Ford said.

But the innovation will be broad-based, he added. In addition to safety and environmental advances such as hybrids, the automaker intends to lay a claim to other technological advances and design innovation, he said.

Tough claim

Though it's positive to see Ford Motor making such a commitment, it will be difficult to imprint the innovation image in the minds of customers, one marketing expert said.

With Ford's announcement coming on the heels of Toyota's proclamation of a major hybrid marketing campaign, Ford risks looking like a follower yet again -- as it did this summer when it followed General Motors down the path of employee discounts for everyone, said Jim Sanfilippo, senior industry analyst at AMCI, an automotive consulting firm in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

"I'm glad that Ford responded," Sanfilippo said. "I wish it would have been earlier. All I can say is hurry. The faster they get there and the better they do, the more credible they can be."

And though environmental and safety innovation are to be admired, those aren't the values that ultimately will set a brand apart from the competition, Sanfilippo said. The marketplace is rapidly approaching technological and safety parity across automotive brands.

"You could attach that (the high-tech tag) to any brand right now," he said. Instead, cutting-edge styling and entertainment features are what will set brands apart in the long run.

Details scarce

The automaker won't provide details about the cost of its hybrid campaign or innovation branding effort. But Bill Ford said he hasn't signed a blank check.

With the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrids, the company's hybrid program is already well underway. And Ford Motor has many other innovation claims that are already paid for -- such as rollover stability control. But the company has been too silent on these advances, Bill Ford said.

Through the ad campaign scheduled to begin next month, Ford Motor intends to reclaim innovation as a "natural birthright." The company is an innovation leader, Bill Ford said, even if competitors such as Toyota are ahead in the hybrid race so far.

"We don't need to invent everything here," Bill Ford said. "After all, we didn't invent the car. We just invented the first car to have mass appeal at an affordable price."

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.....
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