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Old 05-18-2004, 06:50   #1 (permalink)
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USA:Ford hopes Escape Hybrid changes gas-guzzler image

Ford hopes Escape Hybrid changes gas-guzzler image

Effort touts low emissions and high fuel economy rating

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News



MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — Ford Motor Co. is banking on its first gasoline-electric vehicle, the Escape Hybrid SUV, to help clear the air on its environmental commitment.

The Escape Hybrid, which goes on sale late this summer, is the centerpiece of an aggressive new advertising campaign crafted to show “the green side of the blue oval.”

The ads, appearing mostly in high-profile magazines and on the Internet, tout the Escape Hybrid’s low emissions and fuel economy rating of at least 35 mpg in the city.

Ford also highlights its PZEV Focus — which stands for partial zero emission vehicle — and the new ecologically friendly makeover of the Rouge industrial complex.

The marketing push comes as environmental groups continue to criticize the fuel economy of Ford’s product lineup. The average fuel economy of Ford’s model line — 21.9 miles per gallon — puts it last among major automakers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Ford, once America’s flagship automaker, has spiraled downward to become America’s oil addict,” said Jennifer Krill of Rainforest Action Network.

The group, along with Global Exchange, has launched a campaign calling for Ford to boost the fuel economy and lower harmful emissions from its popular light truck lineup.

There are early signs the Escape Hybrid — the industry’s first hybrid SUV — is winning over a new audience.

Of 30,000 people who have already visited Ford’s Web site and requested information about the Escape Hybrid, 70 percent are new to the brand. Ford plans to build and sell about 20,000 Escape Hybrids a year.

Many of them are what Ford calls “the influentials.”

“They’re on the Parent Teacher Association, they’re on the school board,” said Chris Feuell, Ford Division’s SUV group marketing manager. “They’re opinion leaders.”

Well-educated and not easily swayed, Ford hopes they will become ambassadors for the brand.

But they’re not in the usual place automakers find customers — in front of the television set.

The Natural Marketing Institute estimates the “influential” demographic group encompasses some 55 million consumers. They spend more than $200 billion annually and make buying decisions based on environmental and social causes.

To reach them, Ford is relying heavily on print advertising. It bought a multipage insert in Time Magazine and plans to buy space in publications — Mother Jones, for example — that attract discriminating readers.

Of 30,000 people who have already visited Ford’s Web site and requested information about the Escape Hybrid, 70 percent are new to the brand. Ford plans to build and sell about 20,000 Escape Hybrids a year.

Many of them are what Ford calls “the influentials.”

“They’re on the Parent Teacher Association, they’re on the school board,” said Chris Feuell, Ford Division’s SUV group marketing manager. “They’re opinion leaders.”

Well-educated and not easily swayed, Ford hopes they will become ambassadors for the brand.

But they’re not in the usual place automakers find customers — in front of the television set.

The Natural Marketing Institute estimates the “influential” demographic group encompasses some 55 million consumers. They spend more than $200 billion annually and make buying decisions based on environmental and social causes.

To reach them, Ford is relying heavily on print advertising. It bought a multipage insert in Time Magazine and plans to buy space in publications — Mother Jones, for example — that attract discriminating readers.

Ford won’t divulge what it’s spending. But the tab isn’t small.

“What we’re spending on the environmental campaign is consistent with that we would typically spend to launch a vehicle,” Feuell said. “So it’s pretty significant.”

The campaign has two objectives, Feuell said. One is to introduce the Escape Hybrid.

“The other is to communicate an over-arching message about Ford’s overall environment strategy,” Feuell said.

Russ Sallese of Syosset, N.Y., has been following the Escape Hybrid’s development and plans to buy “the top model” for a simple reason: gasoline that now costs “two dollars and 13 cents a gallon.”

Pricing on the Escape Hybrid has not been announced, but it will sell for more than the conventionally-powered Escape that starts at $19,265.

Ford still has hurdles to cross to mollify critics. Sierra Club spokesman Dan Becker dismisses the environmental attributes of the Rouge complex when compared with the automaker’s vehicle emissions.

“At the end of the day, Ford still builds pickup trucks there,” Becker said.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford championed the development of the Escape Hybrid over the objection of some company executives. Bill Ford, a favorite target of environmentalists because the automaker has reneged on pledges to boost light truck fuel economy, says the Escape Hybrid will help build credibility.

“I’m always going to have critics” said Bill Ford. “I’m not here to appease them. But I am here to do the right thing, and that is to build this company into the kind of company that we’re all going to be proud of.”




Ford Motor Co.

The "influential" demographic group for the Escape Hybrid encompasses 55 million consumers. They spend more than $200 billion annually and make buying decisions based on environmental and social causes.

Escape strategy
Ford plans to target so-called "influential" consumers -- as defined by marketing experts -- with the new Escape hybrid SUV. A look at the "influential" market:
55 million people -- 27 percent of the U.S. population -- with annual spending power of $200 billion.
Average income of $110,000.
Range in age from 25-55.
Live mostly on the east and west coasts, with pockets in Texas and Illinois.
Sources: Ford Motor Co., The Natural Marketing Institute
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