May 17 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co., the top seller of pickup trucks in the U.S., is seeking to build credibility as a maker of small cars with a new advertising campaign for its Fiesta subcompact.
A Fiesta commercial will debut tomorrow during Fox television’s “American Idol,” and dealers will begin selling the company’s first subcompact in more than a decade in the U.S. this summer. Ford will introduce a redesigned version of its Focus compact early next year. The Fiesta and Focus were developed by Ford’s European operations.
“This is an opportunity to change the perception of the Ford brand,” Matt VanDyke, Ford’s U.S. marketing director, said today during a press conference in the company’s home city of Dearborn, Michigan. “We don’t have natural showroom traffic on small cars.”
The Fiesta, which starts at $13,995, is an attempt to turn around Ford’s history of making little or no money selling small cars to U.S. consumers. With rising oil prices boosting sales of those cars, Ford and General Motors Co. are rolling out models to meet drivers’ changing tastes while delivering a profit.
“It’s a very important launch for the near-term future of Ford,” John Wolkonowicz, an auto analyst at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, said today in an interview. “If they can’t sell a lot of these, they’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”
‘Pretty Big Deal’
Fiesta commercials, with the slogan “It’s a pretty big deal,” will appear in the final four episodes of American Idol in the next two weeks, reaching more than 100 million viewers, VanDyke said. Ford is spending a “substantial” amount on the Fiesta campaign, which may be similar in size to promotions for Ford’s top-selling model, the F-series truck, VanDyke said.
“This is the biggest car launch of the year” for Ford, said VanDyke, who declined to give a specific amount. “We have very, very consistently advertised F-series and we recognize we need to begin to make the same investment in the brand for cars.”
Ford fell 16 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $11.95 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have risen 20 percent this year.
The Fiesta is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency to get 40 miles per gallon on the highway and 29 mpg in the city, Ford said today. That matches the highway mileage GM has said its Chevrolet Cruz compact will achieve when it debuts in the second half of this year.
The Fiesta is a pillar of Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s bet that U.S. buyers will embrace small cars equipped with the amenities more typically found in larger models such as sport-utility vehicles. Seven air bags, air-conditioning and a dashboard LCD screen are standard.
“The car has what it takes, but it remains to be seen if Americans are ready to pay more for a small car,” Wolkonowicz said. “This is a grand experiment.”
The Fiesta will sell from $13,995 to $20,375, and prices for the Focus now start at $16,985, according to Ford. The next generation of Focus hasn’t been priced.
More than half of the 1,540 advance orders for the Fiesta are for the highest-priced version, which starts at $16,995, said Chantel Lenard, the car’s marketing manager. Heated leather seats, priced at $715, are the most popular option among those putting money down on the car, she said.
“This is a great demonstration of Ford’s re-entry into the car market,” Lenard said. The Focus and Fiesta are “going to work really well in the showroom together because they’ll both attract a new customer to Ford.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Keith Naughton in Detroit at Knaughton3@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at firstname.lastname@example.org