U.S.:Ford answers complaints, moves Escape gearshift to floor console for '05
By AMY WILSON | Automotive News
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. executives are betting they have quieted the top gripe about the Escape sport wagon by moving the gearshift in 2005 models.
Customers had panned the shifter - which is mounted on the steering column - in previous Escape models. Drivers often turned on their wipers when they reached to shift.
Complaints about the shifter lowered customer-satisfaction ratings for the Escape, Ford executives say.
Ford engineers moved the shifter to the floor console in the re-engineered 2005 Escape, which went on sale in late January.
"This was the No. 1 dealer and customer complaint," says Corey Holter, Escape marketing manager. Ford knew the gearshift would be a problem when it launched the Escape in 2000, but they were locked into a steering column design inherited from Mazda. Engineers subsequently shortened the shifter, but complaints persisted.
Ford is counting on the new shifter, plus a replacement four-cylinder engine and safety and interior upgrades to boost Escape sales in 2004. Annual Escape sales this year are up 11.2 percent through February from the year-ago period.
For the full year, Ford marketing executives are expecting to surpass the 167,678 sold in 2003.
The new 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine appears to be contributing to sales, says Chris Feuell, Ford SUV group marketing manager. The take rate on the Escape's old 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was about 2 percent, but dealer orders for the new engine are coming in at more than 20 percent.
The 153-hp engine produces 20 percent more horsepower than the previous 127-hp engine. The new engine is paired with a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission on front-drive and four-wheel-drive models. The previous four-cylinder engine came only with a manual transmission on fwd models.
The four-cylinder also is now the sole engine on the entry-level XLS model. Customers who want an automatic or a 4wd no longer have to upgrade to a pricier V-6 model. So, Ford could sell fewer more-expensive V-6 models with the 2005 lineup than the 2004 lineup.
Starting prices for the 2005 Escape models range from $19,855 to $26,955, including destination charges.
Ford launched the 2005 Escape with a $500 national cash rebate. The re-engineered model now has a $1,000 rebate, compared with a $2,000 rebate on the 2004 Escape. Dealers have about 14,000 2005 Escapes and 22,000 2004 models in their inventories.
Ford launched TV commercials for the 2005 Escape on March 16. Print ads debuted in early March. The campaign for the re-engineered Escape touts the vehicle as "100 percent SUV."
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My next Ford.....