Trust is the New Black: Ford Markets to "Get Real" Consumers

By · December 07, 2012

Ford Focus Electric

How hard is Alan Mulally actually pushing the Ford Focus Electric? (Ford photo)

I have seen the future, courtesy of Ford. The company identifies 13 trends for 2013, which are interesting to filter through an electric car lens. The basic conclusion from the trends report, prepared by BAV Consulting, is that consumers want to buy products from brands they can trust. “Trust is the new black,” says one of the 13 mantras.

Talking with the Wallet

“Customers say they want to use their wallets and spending on something they believe in,” said Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s in-house futurist during a forum on the report in New York Thursday. Grant McCraken, a lecturer at Harvard Business School, adds, “Brands have behaved badly over the last 20 years, and there’s a catalogue of unfortunate choices and unworthy motives. The new goal is absolute transparency. If you don’t make yourself transparent, your competitor will. If you have sincerity, you can fail and the customer will see you as a work in progress and cut you some slack.”

You can watch a wall-to-wall video of the 13 Trends for 2013 here.

This could help Ford as it launches its green fleet, Connelly said. Ford was the only one of the Big Three not to take a bailout, but it still took what Connelly called “a journey,” and consumers saw the company turn the corner, which could lead them to root for its success.

Are We "Post-Green"?

Ford thinks we may be in a “post-green” environment, with environmental values “maturing into a way of life, rather than a niche virtue…There is a growing awareness that green acts, big and small, add up.” And buying a battery car or plug-in hybrid is definitely a green act. But how will consumers interpret Ford’s latest moves in the marketplace?

I would argue that the Ford Focus Electric is a “compliance car,” designed to meet California’s zero emission regulations. Ford has very modest goals for the car, and initially sold it only in California and the New York area, followed by 15 launch markets. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Ford is spending a tenth as much (less than $10 million) on marketing the Focus Electric as it usually spends on new model launches. The results are kind of predictable: In October, the company sold 118 of them.

Getting Real—For Real

I think consumers—especially those savvy buyers identified in the Ford report that want their brands to “get real”—can tell if a company is committed to a product, or if it’s only saluting with one hand. Says Ford: “80 percent of people say they trust a brand less when it communicates with inconsistent behavior.”

Ford isn’t skimping on its rollout of the C-MAX and Focus plug-in hybrids, and the public is paying attention. In November, the company sold 1,259 C-MAX Energis (for a cumulative total of 1,403) compared to 172 Focus Electrics.

The consumer trends identified by Ford might actually give a leg up to the new kid on the block. Tesla Motors, for instance, might be seen as a brand without the baggage and old thinking that plagues established automakers. Tesla isn’t always transparent, but it’s pretty in-your-face with its challenge to the status quo. And it's really, well, real. Certainly, the Model S has become the number one car for aspiring EV owners. Just last night I talked to a LEAF owner who really, really wants a Model S.

Tesla actually made a blink-and-you-missed-it profit. "Am happy to report that Tesla was narrowly cash flow positive last week," tweeted Elon Musk. "Continued improvement expected through year end." Don't read too much into that, but it's still interesting.

Taking Command of Your Driving

Ford thinks that some of the features it introduced on its electric cars—including SmartGauge with EcoGuide (which let’s you know how you’re doing as a green driver), Brake Coach (helps you optimize regen braking) and EcoMode (real-time driving feedback, with incentives and rewards) are what the modern consumer wants. I agree with that—frugal electric driving has become a popular science, and those tools help. And the company probably gets some brownie points for the C-MAX Energi’s recycled denim, plastic from old car battery casings and soybean-based foam in seat cushions.

The Great Escape

But Ford is really stretching it when it tries to tie its SUVs into the big green tent. Listen to this blather: “For decades, ever since Henry Ford brought it to the masses, the car has been a symbol of American freedom: The Great Frontier, Manifest Destiny, Keroucian Zen. Of course America’s open road is shifting course as younger Americans postpone getting their driver’s license, embrace alternative transportation and find refuge in the virtual world. In a world of 24/7 connectivity, real escape is hard to come by. Keeping this in mind, Ford designed and engineered the new Escape with comfort and convenience features…”

“The car has to do much more than just transport you,” Connelly said at the forum, pointing to Ford’s early debut of voice commands on the Focus. So what the Millennials who are abandoning driving in record numbers really want is cutting-edge tech and a cool place to plug in their iPods? It’s bigger than that, folks.

Comments

· Jason Gregg (not verified) · 1 year ago

From your numbers the C-Max Energi outsold the Focus Electric 10-1, but based on the limited range of the FFE I'd say that's not terrible. I can't imagine anyone at Ford saying "Let's spend 10 mil advertising the FFE!" the car is already a loss leader, they're probably losing a lot of money on each one. But that's doesn't mean it's a compliance car, if only because you can buy it anywhere they sell the Energi's.

· Joule_Thief (not verified) · 1 year ago

I have to say the timing of this is a bit ironic amidst the controversy of MPG with the C-Max and Fusion hybrids. Here is Ford talking about the importance of brand trust and consistent communication as many of their hybrid buyers feel misled by claims of 47mpg. Both vehicles currently average under 40mpg as reported by owners on fueleconomy.gov which is a very significant discrepancy.

If trust is the new black, Ford is looking pretty pale at the moment.

· · 1 year ago

Ford has managed to do it again..... Last year, Consumer Reports said "MYFORDTouch Stinks!".

Now, Consumer reports has stated "ford's overpromising of MPG (47 versus real world 39), is the biggest overstatement of mileage" they have ever seen!

I wonder how much of this is Alan Millaly's doing, and frankly, there are no ford products around anymore that I'd be interested in buying. The Ford Focus EV looks like a glue-on thing to me, from a distance that is... None of the dealers around here have any on display. No wonder their sales are rock bottom.

Some of the Mercurys in years past had decent styling, but then they eliminated the brand... I can envision a Nice Big Mercury EV, but it won't happen now.

And those dinky overpriced, overpromised Lincoln things (which keep losing market share to the extent FORD is now doing a reinventing Lincoln multimillion marketing campaign), look to me to just be a sorry copycat of a BMW or Lexus. Others apparently agree since their sales are horrible.

Alan: You're way overpriced. You'll probably retire with a BIG golden parachute before your stockholders figure it out. And I love it that you kept secret that you were Secretly Bailed out so that you never have to return the $millions, when GM and Chrysler are repaying. Along with McDonald's, and Harley Davidson to name drop a few others.

· CharlesF (not verified) · 1 year ago

Talking about Consumer Reports (CR) and the C-Max and Fusion Hybrids not meeting the EPA MPG ratings, there are a few facts that need to be brought out. If you use the CR's MPG ratings and the following assumptions: 15,000 miles per year and 55% city driving you get the following verses the EPA MPG ratings for gallons used in a year:

C-Max: CR: 413.3, EPA: 319.2 for a difference of 94.2 gallons and -22.8%
Fusion: CR: 400.3, EPA: 319.2 for a difference of 81.2 gallons and -20.3%

That looks really bad for Ford. Now lets look at the Prius, Prius v and Civic Hybrid.

Prius: CR: 380.5, EPA: 302.4 for a difference of 78.2 gallons and -20.5%
Prius v: CR: 393.6, EPA: 356.3 for a difference of 37.4 gallons and -9.5%
Civic: CR: 429.6, EPA: 340.9 for a difference of 88.7 gallons and -20.7%

So if you want Ford's head on a platter because of using the EPA MPG values, you should also go after Toyota and Honda. Car manufactures are required to use the EPA MPG values. They can use others, but to do so means they have to put in a bunch of disclaimers. Nobody does that.

Most readers of this site get EPA MPG or better from their cars, I know I do. So do not try to substitute your MPGs for CR's. That would not be comparing apples to apples.

The math is off by 0.1 gallon because of round off errors.

· Spec (not verified) · 1 year ago

It is not the marketing . . . the Ford Focus Electric is just not a good value compared the C-Max. It is not like spending more on marketing would have made the FFE appealing . . . it is just expensive and has limited range.

· Dan Hollands (not verified) · 1 year ago

Whether a car is a "good value" is in the eye of the user. I have had a focus EV for 6 months and have driven 5500 miles. I have never even come close to worrying about range. I live in Rochester NY where a typical trip anywhere in town is less than 50 miles round trip. I have a solar panel on the house the covers all of the energy needed to run the EV plus replaces some of our regular electric usage.

A key item in "value" is whether the car does what you expect. It is a terrific car to drive. I never want to go back to gas powered car. For me this car has been an excellent value.

· Paul (not verified) · 1 year ago

I've had Ford Focus Electric for nearly 6 months and clocked over 6,000 miles on in it commuting just north of the NYC area. It's a GREAT car and has converted me as an EV fan. That said, I've also sat in and driven BOTH the Nissan Leaf AND the Chevy Volt. And for what they;re respective companies wanted me to pay for either? The Focus Electric is a hands-down winner--"limited" 70-80 mile range (compared to the "limitless" gas range of the Volt notwithstanding). Still, compare the Volt to the C-Max Energi? Again, I think the winner is Ford--problems with the EPA mileage ALSO, notwithstanding. However, add the problems of the Focus Electric (Mullaly's timetable, limited availability, lack of marketing, local dealers that refuse to carry it, etc.) along with the C-Max Hybrid and Energi line (mileage issues) and you can see why Ford seems to have done almost everything possible to piss off "greenies" and skeptical consumers.

If "Trust is the new black," then it seems the way Ford loves to show it is through a corporate black eye.

· focus_ev (not verified) · 1 year ago

At only two thousand miles on a Ford Focus Electric I agree with Dan Hollands and Paul that it is a nice feeling to drive a car that doesn't need gas. I had a gas Focus before and it has a similar, peppy drive.

Bill Howland is still correct, though, that it does take some looking to find a dealership that has one, since only certified dealers have them. If you go to www.ford.com, look for dealer inventory on the C-max Energi or Focus Electric, you will find dealers that have the Focus Electric, C-MAX Energi, C-MAX Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid. There are several criteria to become a certified dealer, including service training, etc. For buyers, the important criteria is that certified dealers are always supposed to have at least one of each hybrid and electric model available to drive.

Good luck everyone with whatever choices you make.

· Bubba Nicholson (not verified) · 1 year ago

Ford is Ford. Deal with it.
Ford is not going to make an aerodynamic car. Cars with enclosed wheel wells and boat tails are too spooky for Ford. Follow the customer. Let the consumer drive the company. Give 'em what they want, not what they need. Lag behind until it is too late.
Ford is not going to seriously produce an electric car, either. The smell of napalm's victory still lingers too heavily in their nostrils. Ford is justly afraid of electric cars. Electric cars and current Ford management will turn Ford into a heavy body & heavy parts supplier for Tesla's small lead battery competition. Musk will wipe the floor with Ford.
Ford is going to die, a million deaths. Quality used to be job 1. RIP Ford.

· · 1 year ago

As far as I know, there's a Focus EV currently available at the Jim Click Ford dealership here in Tucson. It was even recently mentioned in a local TV ad. Here's the back story on that one.

A friend here intended to buy that one and submitted a down payment earlier this year. But the special order to get it here from Ford was glacial and buyer nervousness set in, as this person's funds were redistributed in such a way to take full advantage of the federal rebate. The rebate would have become void if possession of the vehicle didn't occur before the end of the calendar year.

Even though the Focus EV finally arrived at the dealer's lot in Tucson, the buyer pulled out of the deal and recently purchased a Mitsubishi i instead. From what I've been able to determine, the deal's undoing largely came about from significant last minute delivery charges that weren't clearly spelled out when the paperwork was signed initially. Whether this last minute extra fee was the dealer simply wanting to make an extra buck for their trouble or was a legitimate attempt to recoup possibly unexpected extra expenses incurred by them from Ford is hard to say. But it's fairly obvious that Ford is currently all gaga over the C-Max hybrid and now treats the Focus EV like a poor bastard stepchild.

The new i owners, by the way, are a retired couple and, for their around town needs, it's more than enough car for them. The buyer, an engineer, had previously converted a GEO Metro to an EV (lead acid batteries, 30 mile range, etc.) and his wife drove it on a daily basis for about 9 years. Their original intention with purchasing the Focus EV was a desire to buy a pure electric vehicle with an American nameplate. Until the Spark EV is finally available everywhere and Tesla markets a "cheap" version of their technology (realistically, it will be at least 2015 before either of those events will occur,) that's going to be very hard for most domestic consumers to do. Hence, the Japanese are the only ones providing relatively affordable EVs (ie: not hybrids) to the American market right now.

As for Ford not partaking in any federal bailout funds, let's be honest here: they did . . .

http://www.factcheck.org/2011/09/ford-motor-co-does-u-turn-on-bailouts/

I'll stand by my convictions that the 2009 federal bailout of the auto industry was a good idea. Ford just needs to get off their high horse and admit they took part in it and - notably - in earlier government loans to keep them afloat.

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· · 1 year ago

@Paul,

I'm curious why you say that the Focus is a hands-down winner on value for price against the Leaf. I have test-driven a Focus, and my impression is that it's more of a refined/complete car, but at the same time, it's less peppy than the Leaf. It's also $5k more than the Leaf SV. You cannot compare it to the SL, since the Focus does not have a quick charger, and that's the single biggest issue with EVs - charge speed (and range, but they're equivalent enough there).

So, what justifies the $5k? I couldn't figure it out, so I went with a Leaf.

· · 1 year ago

The FFE and the Leaf 0-60 times are in the same range - about 9.5 sec. The FFE has a better Level 2 Charger, 6.6 KW and a liquid cooled battery. The Infotainment system in FFE is more sophisticated and has more bells and whistles than the Leaf like rain sensing wipers but my main gripe with the Leaf is styling. One look at those headlights and I was willing to shell out 3K more for the FFE. One other minor thing is that the FFE shares 70% of the parts with the gas Focus which is in wide circulation and thus repairs are usually no problem. Already had a busted rear bumper and the body shop replaced it in 3 days.

· · 1 year ago

It's disappointing that Ford is among the lowest companies for customer satisfaction in Consumer Reports.

The CMax hybrid looks like it would be a really nice car. And the plugin electric would be great.

However, from an October 29 news article by Jerry Hirsch in the LA Times, start of quote--

The automaker’s Ford brand had the worst reliability of the 28 brands in the [Consumer Reports] rankings save Jaguar, which perennially is at the bottom. Ford’s Lincoln brand was just one notch higher in 26th place.

“Ford’s bumpy road can be seen in the numbers. Sixty-percent of Ford-branded models and half of Lincoln's were below average in predicted reliability, and none placed above average,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.

That compares to two years ago when Ford was the most reliable domestic automaker, cracking the top 10 brands in Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability scores study. More than 90% of its models scored as average or better at that time. --end of quote

At the same time, the Volt is highest overall of all cars they rank in the satisfaction rating.

If the Consumer Reports mpg tests are equivalent, then Volt and CMax Energi must be fairly close.

Ford really needs to make reliability quality the goal.

Regarding mpg for hybrids, never discussed is the temperature during test conditions. My wife's 2003 Civic hybrid, which we are ready to replace, gets around 38 mpg in winter, but improves to nearly 50 when driving in late spring through late fall. I suspect ethanol percentage which in Minnesota is also greater in winter is a serious contributor.

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